How to teach a child another language

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Kids love learning languages

It’s a well-documented fact that young children are like little sponges; soaking up new information, learning at the fastest rate they’ll ever achieve and…loving it! So it’s no surprise really that teaching a new language at this age, whether it’s French, Spanish, Arabic or even Latin, is remarkably easy.

As adults we struggle with language. Our pronunciation is often hampered by the fact that we’ve only ever spoken in our native tongue and self-consciousness plays a huge part too – we find it difficult to pronounce new words because we feel embarrassed when we get it wrong. The good news is these are strictly adult-only problems; children love learning something new and they lack the capacity to feel ‘silly’. Instead they’ll embrace their new skill and how clever they are and look for any opportunity to show off.

Keep it simple!

Start with the basics. Don’t be tempted to rush out and buy a conversational Spanish CD and force your child to listen and repeat. Instead, try to remember he fun you had together when they first learned to talk. Invest in (or make) some bright and fun flashcards that label everyday people and objects – mum, dad, brother, sister, dog, cat, table, chair etc.

Use them little and often and once the child is familiar with them start using them face down and making it a game – points for the person who remembers the correct word first for example. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your little one picks up the basics if you remember to make it fun.

Making learning fun

The trick to success is repeat, repeat, repeat but keep it interesting and engaging. Hide objects around the room and call out the name in the language you’re teaching – see if the child can find and retrieve the right object. Play ‘I-spy’ in the car using only the new words. Or point to things at random when you’re out and about and keep a tally of how many the child can name correctly – remember rewards are a great incentive so offer prizes and encourage competition.

Stories, poems, songs and jokes that appeal to children can all be taught in your new language to keep it fun and challenging. If they’re interested in video games or watching movies, and what child isn’t(!) then change the language settings; they’ll be learning as they play and watch without even realising it!

Learn it, don’t label it!

Once you feel confident that your child has a great range of words and can name most familiar household objects you can start to teach phrases and conversation. Try to avoid labelling the learning – remember those awful French lessons at school when you had to learn different tenses, verbs, adverbs and so on? Focus instead on reading simple books together in your new language and using the pictures as prompts to understand what’s going on, or watching a familiar film together and changing the language settings.

Focus on everyday words phrases and say them to each other as often as possible – “I love you”; “please pass me that book/plate/cup”; “it’s raining/sunny/windy today”; “shall we go to the park?” Using phrases that are commonly in use in your household and making a game out of only saying them in the new language will encourage frequent use and fun learning.

Learning takes time

As well as having fun there is another key element to your teaching… patience. Don’t rush; don’t try to teach your child to converse in a day, it will take months, so start early. Think back to when they first learned to talk; this is no different. There will be times when they are frustrated and don’t feel like complying; don’t push them too hard. If they can relax and enjoy the learning process knowing that you won’t be cross if they’re tired or get it wrong, then they really will learn quickly and easily.

As time goes on you can build up the conversation more and more and perhaps have a time during the day – for example around the dinner table – when the conversation is solely in the language being learned. Or if you have a family friend that is fluent already then have that person talk to your child using only the new language. Don’t worry if he or she isn’t understanding every word; if you’ve worked through all the basics they will be understanding enough to follow the gist and the rest will come with practice and application.

Learning together

The important thing to remember is that learning a new skill is easy for a child, but it must be taught through engagement, fun and mutual interest. Your child can teach you as much as you can teach him or her so listen together, play together, speak together and make your language learning an interactive and entertaining experience. Good luck!

Your kids can learn a new language just by watching TV

Read more here: 10 tips to help your kids learn a new language from TV

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