Many parents are considering teaching their child a second language and I mean why wouldn’t you? You’re setting them up with a skill that can do nothing but help them in the future. In the global world, languages are becoming more important and more sought after and many parents are wanting to start their children off while they’re young. But the problem a lot of parents have is they’re not sure how to do this.
For many English speaking parents, they’re grown up in a monolingual world, where the only language learning they had was talking about hobbies and vacations in French class at school. This makes the task of teaching your child a second language seem daunting. But don’t worry, there are lots of things you can do as a parent to help your child learn a second language and we’re going to show you some of them.
If you’re not convinced yet that teaching your child a second language is for you, then you should read our article dedicated to why you should teach your child a second language here.
How to teach your child a second language
Things you can do as a parent
Your involvement as a parents depends on what your foreign language level is like. Let’s start off with Bilingual parents.
You guys are the lucky ones because you’re starting this journey with your children equipped with the most useful resource possible; yourself.
It’s very easy in a bilingual household to speak the dominant language, especially if one of the parent’s only speaks one language and the children have a preference. And this is understandable, you want family life to be smooth and comfortable so you resort to the preferred language, but this isn’t going to help your children learn a second language, if that’s what you want them to do.
But if you want your child to learn two languages you’re going to have to start speaking it at home. Something you could try is having designated days where you only speak English and designated days where you only speak your other language. That way the child will get lots of exposure to both languages and will grow up in a bilingual household.
If you’re worrying about excluding your partner then try and involve them too. Remember when you’re speaking to your baby in your foreign tongue you’re not going to be talking about complicated stuff. With gestures and encouragement, your partner will probably be able to understand what you’re saying as well. This is also a good opportunity for your partner to learn some of your language.
- Don’t use the language as a secret language that excludes your partner.
- Do use the language to teach your children, and to encourage your partner to learn some of it as well.
Parents with some understanding of another language
If you’re not bilingual but you’ve studied a language to some degree then you also have a good start to help your children.
How much you speak with your child in the second language will probably depend on your level in that language. If you’re quite confident and near fluent then you’ll be speaking it a lot more than someone who has a basic understanding.
If you have some understanding of a foreign language try and use that language when you can. Maybe you only know basic commands like ‘come here’ ‘sit down’ and ‘put on your shoes.’ That’s fine, get your children used to hearing those words, understanding them and responding. If you’re more confident then you’re obviously going to use a lot more.
Accompany this with the methods mentioned in the next section and your child should start picking up more and more of the new language.
Important! Try not to give them your errors. Firstly, mistakes are always ok when you’re learning a new language, but if you aren’t that confident and you keep repeating things to your children that aren’t correct, they’re going to solidify them and it’s going to be a lot more difficult for them to change when they get older.
Parents learning from scratch like their children
If you’re in the position where you’re learning the language from scrap like your child then don’t worry there are lots of things you can do to help them and to learn yourself along the way.
- Label things around the house in the new language. That’s a way for you and your child to learn together and you can refer to the things in the new language. If your child is a bit older you can get them to help you make the labels.
- Sing songs in different languages to and with your children. You should be able to learn some basic songs then you can sing them to your child in the new language. It’s good to do songs like this with fun actions that the children can mimic.
- Learn basic sentences and commands so you can say things like ‘put your toys away’ in your new language.
- Find youtube channels you can watch together that teach you a new language
- Watch children’s TV shows or cartoons in different languages so they can get exposure to it and enjoy the fun cartoons at the same time
- Go to a class with your child so you can both learn together
- See if it’s possible to enrol them in a bilingual school or nursery
- Learn basic conversations about your day or food they like to eat and try talking to them in the new language or asking them questions
- Download apps and games to your tablet in the target language that they can play
Classes you can take your child to
A great way to teach your child a second language especially if you’re not confident in the language yourself is to take them to a class. You’re also giving the child the opportunity to socialise at the same time which is great for their development.
You also don’t have to worry about boring classrooms with lots of children and textbooks. Now language learning is improving all the time and there are many classes in English speaking countries that are fun, interactive and have small class sizes.
Two examples of this in the UK are:
They specialise in small group sizes and playing games to help children learn, and they focus on having fun which is what you want for your child.
You could also consider a tutor for your child to come to your home and speak the language with them, or if you’re likely to get a nanny to help you, then why not get a foreign nanny so they can learn a language while they’re being cared for.
When you’re planning your family trip every year, why not consider going to the country of the language you want your child to learn. If your child is learning French, then take an annual trip to France to give your child an opportunity to practise their French.
And make sure you don’t just order for them. Help and encourage them to start speaking French with the local people from an early age, even if it’s just ordering the croissants in the morning, this speaking practise will help them a lot. Just make sure you’re not pushing them too far out of their comfort zone too quickly or this could hinder their learning process. A scary or negative experience with a new language can put a child off learning a language completely.
Give them a safe base from which they can try their language skills and help them to speak in manageable chunks. You’re obviously not going to send them alone to buy tickets the first time they speak to a French person!
Another option you could do while you’re abroad is sending them to a language class. This is something they could do with their mornings, then in the afternoon they can have some well deserved family time.
Read With Your Children
When you’re teaching your child a second language make sure you read with them like you would in your own language.
This is our list of recommended Spanish books for children. If you want recommendations for children’s books in other languages then just let us know.
Mistakes are always ok!
This is the most important thing that you need to remember. If you think about your child learning English, they’re going to make mistakes, say the wrong thing and jumble their words up. This is a natural part of their learning English and it’s no different if they’re learning Chinese or Spanish.
Children need to know that it’s ok if they make a mistake and they can just learn and try again. If they say something wrong, smile at them and just repeat the correct thing to them. Think of it in English:
If a child said “mum he hitted me.”
You could say yes. “Yes he hit you.”
You’re showing the child that you understand them but you’re modelling the correct form of the language to them at the same time.
We hope you’ve found our tips on how to teach your child a second language useful. If you’re currently teaching them a second language or you’re planning to then please let us know your tips in the comments below. We always want to know what techniques tried out, whether they worked for you and if you would recommend them to others.