Are you interested in teaching your child a second language or two, but are not sure when or how to start? Come, and let us go through the possibilities.
The Earlier, The Better
Some of us have the notion that teaching a child two or more languages at the same time will lead to confusion and delays in speech. However, studies have shown that this does not hold true and on the contrary, actually helps the child learn and understand language better, especially at an early age.
So, when is it the right time to start teaching a child a second language? Here, we find that there is no such thing as “too young”. The earlier we do, the better. You see, infants have the ability to mimic sounds of any language. Because they are just starting to discover things, they are curious about their senses, and this includes the sounds that they hear. According to Linda Frost, author of ‘Earlier is Better’, “Neural networks gradually form, and they function more and more efficiently as they are used. If a second language is part of that input, networks for understanding and using it grow richer. Therefore, early exposure to a second language actually causes more connections to grow in a child’s brain, and those connections, in turn, allow for easier additional learning in the second and first languages,”
Initially, it is best to introduce a second language in the child’s first year of life because of their ability to mimic the sounds of any language. By the time they reach about 10 months old, they start to narrow down the range of sounds to what they hear around them. So if you haven’t begun teaching a child a second language in the first year, it’s best to wait till he reaches 2-1/2 years old- after having gone through a ‘vocabulary explosion’ of his primary language. Moreover, research has shown that the opportune time for a child to master a second language, acquiring the ability to speak like a native speaker, is before the age of 12.
It Starts at Home
In teaching your child a second (or third) language, it would really help if the child is able to fully immerse in the language at home. If you and/or any of your family members are bilingual, allow the child to be exposed and immersed in both languages. More so, encourage an environment that goes beyond mere memorization and flash cards, but that of exploration, active play, and family activities – with language in target.
Consider Language Classes
If you are not well-versed in the second language, you might want to consider enrolling your child to a language class. For instance, there are certain schools and centers that offer ‘Mommy and Me’ language classes for children as young as 2, where both mom and child can interact while learning the language. There are also classes that are specifically provided for pre-school and school-age children.
In choosing a class, meeting the following criteria is a must:
- It should be taught by a native speaker. That way, the child would be able to learn words and phrases in the proper way.
- It should include fun and engaging activities for children. These may include games, arts & crafts, singing, and other child-friendly activities.
- The class should be the right size and length for your child. For example, there are individual classes that allow children to learn at their own pace. Meanwhile, there are also group lessons which may cater to around 4-6 students at a time. Consider how long the class is as well. It may range from 30 mins. to an hour and a half. To help you decide, inquire with the school if you can observe a class, to know whether it is the right environment for your child.
Enhance the Learning Experience
Although classes may provide a good venue for learning a second language, applying the concepts at home helps enhance the learning experience. Below are some suggestions:
- Introduce your child to dual language picture books, foreign language CDs, videos, and TV shows that are suitable for children.
- Try labeling things at home with foreign language for your child to practice identifying them.
- Search the internet for foreign culture sites that can be viewed in dual languages.
- Go to the supermarket and read the labels of ethnic food brands and maybe try some at a restaurant or at home.
- Invite friends that are fluent in a foreign language, and encourage them to speak the language with your child.
Why Being Bilingual is Beneficial
- Studies show that children who study a second language are more imaginative, can understand abstract ideas, and are able to gain a wider perspective.
- Children have a greater sensitivity to language, and are able to listen better.
- Learning a second language helps one feel more connected to his own heritage.
- The child becomes more open to different cultures, allowing him to better understand and appreciate people from different parts of the globe.