Foreign language learning for children

Carole Hallett MobbsEducation, Expat Kids, Language, Local school, Pre-school, Preparation & Planning7 Comments

Picture of a language teacher. Foreign language learning for children

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Learning a foreign language as a child

Younger children pick up a new language so much quicker than older kids and adults. Learning a foreign language as a child is much easier than learning it as an adult.

If you are moving to a location where a new, foreign language is required, you and your child may choose to start learning it before you leave your home country.

My daughter started learning her first foreign language – Japanese – as soon as she started school at five years old and was able to speak decent sentences with a perfect accent within a very short time. Since then, she’s also learned French, Spanish, German and has just started Latin. We kept Japanese alive through private tutoring for a while as she didn’t want to lose that ability. She finds it easy to switch between them and has no problem with the very different vocabulary and accents. I’m constantly amazed and very envious of her abilities!

When I was at school, languages weren’t introduced until I was eleven years old. Consequently, I find learning new languages incredibly difficult.

Language learning for kids

Help your child learn a new language before your relocation with these suggestions recommended by expat parents.

Private language tuition

This can be expensive, but it’s a price worth paying, especially if your child will be entering a local school where all the lessons will be in the language of that country. Even if they will be going to an international school, getting head start on the language will pay dividends.

Language DVDs

Yes, I’m encouraging your child to watch more TV! DVD films usually have an option to change the language they’re shown in. This method is particularly useful when used with a well-known and well-loved movie. As well as gaining an ear for the sounds of the new language, your child will understand the context because the plot of the film is already known to them. All learning should be enjoyable, and what could be more enjoyable than watching movies?

You could also invest in specialised language learning modules on DVD. Try them first by visiting your local library for copies to borrow.

Language learning online

Many online resources are available for learning a new language. A good start is the BBC Languages website. There are many more available, including apps to help you learn a language. Lots more resources to help both your and your child learn a new language can be found here.

The key to teaching your child a new language is to make it fun; be relaxed about it and don’t pressurise them.

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7 Comments on “Foreign language learning for children”

  1. In Kazakhstan We would only let the children watch TV/DVDs in the host language during the week. They had 5 lessons of Russian and 5 of Kazakh every week at school and our housekeeper/ nanny only spoke Russian so they had to learn.

    Here in Malaysia English is so widely spoken they find it hard to learn much Malay or Mandarin. They also only have one lesson of each a week. They can communicate pleasantries but nothing more.

    In KZ they could converse very well. They have lost a lot of that vocabulary but will pick it up again if they need it. The neural connections are there so learning the languages again will be easier.

    1. Like the idea of a nanny to help teach them! Also, I think your last sentence is very accurate – once a language has taken root in the brain it (hopefully!) will reappear when needed 🙂 As I am no linguist, I was surprised to find when on holiday recently that I had retained a lot of French from my school days many decades ago. As I’ve never had to use it since school, this was intriguing and gives me hope that my daughter will recall her Japanese and German in the future.

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  3. The first time we became expats we began our lessons before we left the US. I definitely recommend this because you can understand, although not speak, many things when you arrive. Placed in the local schooling system, our toddler spoke fluently by the time we left 4 years later. Our 12 year old, was also able to speak fluently, although her writing skills in both English and French were not at grade level. We also had only the French tv stations – that helped. Now on our third assignment our two youngest are slowly advancing in German in a bilingual school. The difference in my perspective is: 1) my husband was fluent in French and so we practiced at home and we, the parents, modeled bilingualism; 2) we were in an entirely French-speaking community. We are struggling with German because all of us are learning at the same time and because there are so many people to speak English with. It is great to hear how well the kids speak German, when they reluctantly do so!

    1. That’s great and very useful advice about learning before you relocate, Christine. And immersing works so well for children, especially when they are younger.
      I find German very hard to learn, but I do find the words easy to read (mind you, the last place I was in had a totally different writing system, so I stood little chance!).

  4. I moved to Mexico when I was 7 years old. Although I went to school in English and spoke English at home, I watched a lot if Mexican television and picked up Spanish very quickly. Those telenovelas can be addictive!

    1. Hi Kathy, thank you for visiting!
      It sounds like TV is the way to go when learning a new language! I’ve heard so much similar advice. And Spanish is one of my favourite languages, I have to say. And the only one I can remember – which doesn’t work too well since I live in Germany…

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