For what it’s worth, we already know the advantages of being at least bilingual. We also know that it’s great to start teaching your child a foreign language at a young age. But what most parents struggle with is finding the right methods and keeping their children enthusiastic and engaged when learning a new language. Fortunately for them, there are plenty of online resources, games and entertaining methods to deal with it.
Learning a new language is still surrounded by myths and misconceptions, but in today’s world, proficiency in two or more foreign languages is not as difficult to attain as it seems. And doing so comes with a series of advantages.
Advantages of being bilingual
According to research papers trying to determine the advantages of being bilingual, experts have concluded the following.
- Being bilingual has positive effects on cognitive development. Speaking a second language can improve children’s attention span and teach them to multitask better than monolingual people. Children as young as 12 months who are exposed to more than one language adapt better to changes in their living environments.
- Knowing a second language offers academic advantages. The cognitive advantages mentioned above become noticeable in educational settings. Children taught in their second language outperform their monolingual peers after the age of seven.
- Bilingual adults have better career advancement chances. Depending on which language your children speak, they will have more job opportunities than their monolingual colleagues. More languages on a resume might have their job applications moved higher.
- Surprising health benefits. Bilingualism can help delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help speed up the recovery after strokes and lower stress levels.
Now that you are familiar with a series of reasons why your child should learn a second language, below are seven valuable tips you can use to help them.
#1. Get started early
The most important step in helping your child learn a foreign language is to start as early as possible. Specialists have proven that even babies can learn a language before starting to talk.
Research shows that babies have the ability to be raised bilingual and differentiate between languages. Ideally, parents should aim to introduce their infants to foreign languages before their 12th month birthday. According to Patricia Kuhl, director of the University of Washington’s NSF Science of Learning Centre, small babies are able to tell the nuances in sound and voice inflections present in all languages of the world. Patricia Kuhl also says that after their first birthday, infants lose this skill.
This doesn’t mean children older than a year can’t learn foreign languages. It means parents and tutors need to apply different strategies and methods. It may also mean learning a foreign language after the one-year point will not be as easy and intuitive for children.
Getting started as early as possible will offer your child the best chance to master a second language.
#2. Start with the basics
After parents decide they want to teach their children a foreign language, starting with the basics for a while will jumpstart their evolution. Even if parents don’t know the language themselves, they can start by exposing children to songs, cartoons, and movies in that language.
Hearing the target language can help children of different ages get familiar with its tones and auditory particularities. When starting the process, parents should consider including the following activities.
- Learn colours and shapes together.
- Play games together.
- Label items around the house with their denominations in the foreign language and practice identifying them.
- Listen to music together.
- Have music in the foreign language playing in the background. You will have your child hum and bop along, initially. After a while, you will find them singing along.
Regardless of your method of choice, you should aim to make the entire process as entertaining and pleasant as possible. The Internet will offer a series of ideas and resources suitable for this purpose.
#3. Use all foreign language resources
Foreign language resources will be your best friend. Research what online what apps, books, and online language programs are available for your language of choice.
- Use free apps like Duolingo, Stories By Gus On The Go, Little Pim, Learning by Mindsnacks. Here is a list of free apps parents can use to teach and encourage their children to learn new languages.
- Use free online resources for bilingual children, like the ones listed here. Amazon, the Book Depository and other shops and platforms offer numerous resources that can be successfully used in the process. Depending on the language you are aiming to teach your children, choose from the books and materials available.
- Use screen time to your children’s advantage and allow them to watch cartoons and animations in your language of choice. You can also set subtitles in the desired language on English cartoons and shows.
Mixing entertainment with education is more effective and motivates children to learn new languages, according to education specialists. Engaging them in games with an educational touch will keep them engaged and more involved in the process.
#4. Trick them into agreeing to tutoring
After children get a good grasp of the basics, parents will have to find professional help to boost their practice and development. Start by finding a foreign language class for beginners in your area. Alternatively, you can find a native speaker in the language of choice and make arrangements to meet your child and simply communicate with them in the foreign language, at first.
When children advance in learning the foreign language, you should start researching professional tutors in your area. If you manage to take your child to tutoring classes in the target language at least one or two times a week, they have higher changes to reach proficiency in said language faster.
A recent trend in supplying high-quality second language lessons is online tutoring. This will make your child more engaged and thrilled they are using a tablet or computer in their lessons.
To make the process more pleasant for them, you should find a tutor specialised in teaching children. They have more suitable approaches and strategies to raise their interest, motivate and entertain them. Encourage your child to communicate with their tutor in the foreign language as much as they can. Tricking them into thinking the tutor only understands the target language is a good way to practice their language skills with enthusiasm.
#5. Play in your child’s target language.
Tutoring is a good way to show your child how rewarding knowing a second language can be. But parental efforts also contribute to a better learning process. There are games parents can play with their child to promote their enthusiasm to learn new languages.
The Longest Line is a good example of such a game, but it has to involve more children. Musical Chairs is another game that will make your child enthusiastic about learning a second language. You will need more planning and several props before getting started.
During your games, you should gather as many objects and resources that will help you raise your child’s interest and explain the rules easier. Props, pictures, and even technology are highly immersive and will help you keep your child entertained and enthusiastic.
Games should be conducted in the language of choice. If your child is still at a beginner level, mix the foreign language and the native language for extra explanations and clarifications. Parents might have to give most instructions in their native language and leave only a few in the foreign language. For instance, in a Spanish language game, parents can say “The boat is sinking, the boat is sinking! Group yourselves in seis (six)!”
Parents should make game settings as happy and as positive as possible. Use a language that is not too advanced, but not too easy, either. Give them tasks and ask them questions that are challenging enough, but solvable. Encourage them in the process, and if you find them struggling, you can switch to easier assignments and questions, for a confidence boost.
Be fired up when playing language games with your child. Show enthusiasm, and you will receive enthusiasm. Give positive reinforcement and be passionate in the process, even if you are only teaching your child shapes and colours. If your child notices your lack of passion, they will follow.
To keep their attitudes positive, give micro-lessons during the game. Let’s suppose you’re teaching them colours. When they name each colour, make sure you also help them spell it. Make them repeat after you and praise them when they seem to understand. After the game, make them feel like a winner. Give them some treats, make them feel rewarded and appreciated. This will encourage them to get involved in similar games in the future as well.
#6. Find entertainment materials in that language
When cartoons and shows in the target language air, make sure to include them in your child’s schedule. This will leave the impression they are having fun, rather than being subjected to a second language immersion course.
Foreign language centres in your area might air different children’s shows in foreign languages. Learn more about this sort of activities. When the opportunity to take your child to a show in their target language appears, do it!
Colouring books with short descriptions in the target language are also a good tool to encourage them to learn the second language. Puzzles are a good way to practice their language skills, as well. Once they complete the puzzle, ask them to use short, simple phrases in the second language to describe it.
#7. Praise their evolution in a proper way
Two recent studies show that the right type of praise will improve children’s academic results. The right type of praise appears to boost children’s motivation and perception in terms of intelligence. For decades, psychologists have explained to parents that finding the right type of praise for children can boost their academic results, their self-esteem levels and attitude in life.
However, finding the best way to practice praise plays a determinant role.
For instance, when trying to teach your child a new language and see them making progress, avoid telling them their results are because they are smart. Tell them they have such good results because they work hard to get them. The first praise in our example will tell the child they are entitled to the results and will undermine their motivation to work harder in the future for their results. The second example of praise emphasizes their efforts and puts them in a central position. Diligence comes above intelligence when trying to teach your child a new language, and they should be fully aware of it.
A team of researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago led by Elizabeth Gunderson wanted to know how praise influences children’s academic results and educational evolution. The study concluded that children aged 1 to 3 who received praise at home outperformed children who didn’t, later in secondary school. The long-term positive effects praise has on children should be enough for parents to implement this strategy into their child’s learning process.
Teaching children their proficiency in a new language, even at a beginner level, comes from their sustained efforts will encourage and motivate them in the future to work even harder and accomplish more.
On the other hand, praising them for their intellect and “smartness” will turn them into self-centred children with low levels of motivation and inclination to working hard.
More than this, the team of researchers has found that early at-home praise has noticeable effects even later in life. The 2017 study, “Parent Praise to Toddlers Predicts Fourth Grade Academic Achievement via Children’s Incremental Mindsets,” published in Developmental Psychology, explains why some children do better in school than others. Parental praise easily in like is the secret here.
So, whenever you plan another language session with your child, offer them praise for every small achievement. Make sure to give it in the right form to emphasize the role of hard work and commitment. For instance, after your child learns all their colours in the new language say something along the lines “See, all those hours of practice paid off! Now you know all the colours in your second language!”
Training children to be proficient in new languages comes with a lot of work and commitment, but considering the advantages it brings, in the long run.
Erica Sunarjo is a writer and translator with a master’s degree in marketing. At present, Erica is fluent in French and Spanish, studying Chinese and working her way to being a multilingual copywriter. She is now a regular editor at a professional translation agency. Erica used her knowledge to make a difference in the realm of business copywriting and invested heavily in traveling and language learning.