To teach children a second language is to set them up for success in a world that seemingly grows smaller every day. That a second language can lead to greater academic and professional opportunities is widely known and accepted, but the benefits don’t stop there! Polyglots tend to have healthier brains, showing higher levels of brain function throughout their lives, postponing the onset of such diseases as dementia and Alzheimer’s, and recovering better from strokes. Finally, despite many parents’ fears, learning a second language can help one to more completely understand their mother tongue!
So, you’ve taken the first step and enrolled your son or daughter in a bilingual nursery or school, or in language classes. Fantastic! But what can you do to make sure their learning doesn’t stop at the front door? The key is to maximise your child’s exposure to the target language, and there are several ways to do so.
Do you speak your child’s target language? If so, the easiest way to reinforce it is to speak it! Don’t worry if your language level isn’t very high or if your pronunciation isn’t perfect; the most important thing is that your child sees you using the language and is able to interact with it in all aspects of their daily life. Play make-believe, give commands, and chat with your kids in their new language!
Reading is a great way to increase language exposure, and might be a better option for parents who are less confident in their own language skills. Besides the wide range of linguistic benefits that come from reading, the time can be used to feed your child’s imagination and spark a life-long love of reading.
For bilingual and monolingual parents alike, tech aids can be a saving grace when teaching kids another language. Here at Wonderland, a favourite resource for teaching English is music! (Check out my last blog post on music in early childhood language education!) Music is most effective as a didactic tool when accompanied by visual aids and dance. The more kids interact with music the more meaning they take from it, picking up grammatical structures and vocubulary. Learn songs with your kids and dance with them; you’ll all have so much fun you won’t realise how much you’re learning!
While we usually prefer to play children’s music videos to teach English, don’t forget to also switch your son or daughter’s favourite movies and TV shows to the target language as well! Watching cartoons isn’t enough to build your child’s language skills, but it is certainly a place to start if your kids are already watching their favourite shows daily.
Finally, there is a plethora of child-friendly games and apps for language learning across all different platforms! Whether it’s learning Mandarin through virtual flashcard games or learning English through interactive stories, you can find something perfect for your family’s needs.
A new language should never be a source of pressure or stress for your child! It should be presented as a means of communication and, above all, play! These are the factors that motivate young learners to learn their mother tongue, and will also serve to teach them their second language.
Do you have any other methods for reinforcing your child’s second language? Let us know!