Since my daughter was born five years ago, my husband and I have been raising her to be bilingual. My husband is Italian and I’m American. He speaks some English and I’m fluent in Italian as my second language. We live in Italy and speak both Italian and English in our house. Being immersed in two languages means our daughter now speaks and understands both languages.
Whether or not your household is bilingual, research has shown many advantages to learning to speak a second language. It can boost academic performance, improve focus, build stronger memory and communication skills, build empathy, and foster creativity. Families may also want to connect to their heritage and be able to speak to relatives who speak that language. Here are eight tips to consider if you want your child to learn a second language from my experience raising a bilingual child.
How to Help Your Child Learn a Second Language
1. Start as early as possible
If you want to start teaching your child to speak another language, the earlier you begin the better. Kids are like sponges and will have an easier time picking up a new language at a younger age. Of course you can begin at any point, but the sooner, the better.
2. Surround yourself with others who speak the language you are teaching
If you have the benefit of having friends or family who already speak the language you’re hoping your child learns, make a point of having get-togethers with them. Ask them to speak only in that language when you are together. It has been shown that those who learn in an immersive way (whether at a school or a study abroad experience) exhibit higher levels of fluency.
3. Read books and watch movies in the language
Luckily, streaming sites like Netflix and Prime offer videos in multiple languages. Take advantage of that! Watch movies and shows that your children are already familiar with since that will be easier to follow initially. Listening to the language will also help your child better familiarize themselves with correct pronunciations.
Purchase bilingual books, as well. Reading will also help your child visualize the words and even start writing in the new language.
4. Have a dance party with music in that language
Create a Spotify or YouTube playlist with music in that language. Even just keeping the music on in the background when it’s bath time or play time will be a way for your child to become further exposed to it.
5. Use language learning apps
For older children, a fun way to learn a second language can be through a learning app. These days there are so many options to consider depending on the child’s age, but so many of these apps make learning a second language fun and interactive. Since they’re fun to play, children get more caught up in the idea of playing a game and they’re less likely to think of it as “learning.”
6. Make the language visible
When children can actually see something in front of them and visualize it, it can make things easier. Support their learning by creating or buying flash cards to practice. If your child can see a picture of an elephant and see how it is spelled in the language you’re teaching them, it gives them a visual aid and can be helpful in retaining the second language.
7. Be patient
Learning a second language is a lot of work. Heck, learning a first language is a lot of work. Be patient and comforting. Don’t turn teaching into stress for you and your child. Yes, learning a new language will be a wonderful advantage, but know that it will take time.
8. Be encouraging
Once your child begins picking up their second language, make sure to praise them and be encouraging. Remember that this is not a simple task, so by letting your child know that they’re learning and progressing, you’re helping them see the results of their hard work.