It may surprise you that English is only spoken natively by around 13% of the global population, or about 335,000,000. In actuality, Spanish is spoken more widely (by around 414,000,000) and Chinese (macrolanguage comprising 13 separate languages) is spoken by well over a billion.
With that in mind it is hardly surprising that more parents are taking steps to teach their child a foreign language from a young age. It is now compulsory for children in Key Stage 2 of Primary school to learn a language, but Brits are generally well behind their European counterparts with regards to early language learning.
If you’re planning a move overseas in the near or distant future, helping your child get to grips with the language spoken in the nation before you arrive can make the integration process that much easier.
While constant immersion in a language speeds up the learning process, here are five top tips for getting started with a language at home.
1: Buddy Up with a Native Speaker
When we learn our native language in infancy it’s our environment that dictates the sounds we make. A baby’s babble encompasses all the sounds found in world languages, but the sounds required to make up your own language are honed and perfected as the child grows.
It stands to reason, then, that if your household speaks multiple languages a child will be able to pick up elements of both, and (with the right guidance) eventually learn to speak both.
If you’re not from a bilingual household but are trying to teach your child to learn Spanish, exposing them to a native Spanish speaker will have a dramatic and positive impact on the way a child learns. It is also encourages them to adopt the correct pronunciation.
Of course, having a native speaker to hand is not always possible. However, technology makes a fine alternative. There are many programs/apps available now that provide useful soundbites and online language courses with an interaction element. YouTube is also a fantastic resource for sourcing videos geared towards language learning for children. Even doing something as simple as setting your children’s favourite DVDs to play in the language they’re trying to learn will help them associate unusual sounds with objects and actions they’re familiar with.
Additionally, there are many websites where you can sign your child up to be pen pals with a child from a foreign nation. Being able to write and skype virtually with their pen pal will give them an insider knowledge of many of the idiosyncrasies of the language they’re trying to learn. Of course, caution must be observed so make sure you’re vigilant in checking not only the legitimacy of the pen pal service you’re using but also the background of the child yours is being paired with. Speak to their parents before any interaction takes place between the children and maintain regular contact with them throughout the process.
2: Learn Together
Whilst it is definitely true that the capacity to learn new things is heightened in childhood, it doesn’t mean adults and children can’t learn at the same rate. If you have no knowledge of the language you want your child to learn then why not learn together?
Even if you do have an extensive knowledge of the language you are teaching there is still much to be said for approaching teaching as an exercise of mutual learning. A child will often be far more confident learning if they feel they are on a level playing ground with others.
Set aside dedicated time to spend together and work on your language skills. Make flashcards, play games and make the process an enjoyable activity for you both. The speed at which you’re able to pick up a language is, understandably, dependent on how much time you put into the endeavour. If you can, try to allocate at an hour a day to language-learning pursuits.
3: Set Small Goals
Learning anything new is a marathon and not a sprint. Although you need to put time into picking up a foreign tongue, to keep learning a language fresh and interesting it is recommended that you don’t overdo it. This is where having a native speaker around, if possible, is useful because your child will learn without feeling they are being taught.
Setting small goals is another useful way to break down learning. Chunk leaning into small daily goals (learning a word a day, for example) and an overall weekly goal (learning a sentence or selection of words), and make sure the learning environment is encouraging. Learning a language is difficult and it’s easy to get disheartened if you don’t think you’re making progress so consider introducing a reward system for meeting goals.
4: Use Media: Watching TV is Still Learning
As highlighted in our first tip, learning using media can be a very useful tool for young children and adults alike. There are a number of apps and programs (including games) designed to make the process of learning a language easier and more fun.
However, as previously stated, it’s not just specific language-learning tools that can help. Watching a cartoon or TV programme in the language you are trying to learn can be incredibly useful. There are many videos of foreign tv programs online that are free to view, so there’s no need to pay out for an expensive sky package that includes a channel for Spanish soap operas. You could also look at purchasing translations of some of your children’s favourite books as the familiarity of the stories will encourage the association of words with actions and speech.
5: Apply Your Skills in the Real World
Children, and many adults, are often heard complaining about learning a subject when they can’t view it in the context of a real world situation. One well known example is the common hatred for algebra.
For your child to really engage with a subject they have to feel like it is important and necessary to them. If you are learning Chinese for no other reason than having it on your curriculum vitae (a prospect not likely to motivate most children) it will quickly become a chore.
However, if you have a holiday or move to China planned, there is a definite point and purpose to learning the language. If you’re planning a move overseas, try to plan a trip to your country of choice in advance of the move (if finances allow). On this trip encourage your child to interact with local children and talk to staff in cafes, shops etc. This will help keep them motivated when they return home and help progress the learning process in the build up to the move. Meeting children local to the area you plan to migrate to could also open up the kind of pen pal opportunities mentioned above.
Whether you’re moving overseas or simply want your child to learn a foreign language for their future benefit, making the process enjoyable really does make all the difference so have some fun with it. If you’ve got any tips for helping children learn a foreign language please let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
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