Babies and toddlers are geniuses in learning languages, why not make the best of this amazing skill and introduce a new language at home.
Teaching a second language to your child is easy and can be a rewarding activity to embark on together.
The benefits of learning a second language are well-researched, in early childhood as well as in adulthood. We all want the best for our children, but is trying to introduce a second language at an early age a step too far?
“Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning machines ever created, and that infants’ learning is time-sensitive. Their brains will never be better at learning a second language than they are between 0 and 3 years of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS (University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences) and a UW Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences.
Therefore, yes, babies can learn a second language, even when they aren’t getting the same language exposure at home from bilingual parents.
You, as a parent and main role model, are in a unique and privileged position to be able to teach a second language to your children, here are some tips to know how:
Little and often
Little and often is recommended, although children are great at picking up another language, they can also be quite good at forgetting it. Therefore, the best way to teach them is little and often. You might only have 20 minutes two mornings a week or after their nap, or even just at the weekends, but, if possible, choose the best times for both. Children like consistency and they will love it when it is the time of the week or the day to do a bit of learning together. Repetition is key. Repetition is their way of learning the sounds, grammatical rules and other linguistic parameters of their own language and any new one will work the same.
Read books together
Books are a great tool to learn. Children are much more focused looking at the pictures and enjoying the shared time. Try and find books in the target language. I would recommend simple, and picture focussed books. You can also use the books you have at home and look at the words you will need before if you need to. If you are looking for the words in advance, start with just single words and point to the pictures then repeat.
Learn through action songs
For babies I would choose finger play songs, upper body and lower body lower body movements provide physical benefits. Controlled actions help to support body movements, coordination and mind and body movement control.
For toddlers and pre schoolers choose songs about the topics they are drawn to.
The songs should not be too long and the simpler they are the better.
Babies and young children are drawn to the varied intonation and rhythm of singing. The repetition can help them to discriminate between the sounds in the language as well as helping them to acquire new vocabulary. Also, singing can improve auditory memory, the ability to process, retain and recall the things you hear. All these things are crucial for language acquisition.
Watch programmes they like in a second language
Watching short educational programmes offers the advantage of spreading the language exposure contexts as well as hearing the language from different sources, something I believe aids the learning process.
My recommendation would be to watch a programme together, comment on some words or sentences to help the children and then find different occasions to repeat those words or sentences referring back to the programme you watched together.
Look around and take the language with you
When you are walking to the park, going shopping, playing a game, doing craft activities remember to point out the vocabulary you have been learning together.
Older children thrive on little challenges and will love to help you out, pretend you have forgotten how to say something in the language you are learning, if you see they cannot remember either, just say: “was it something like… “Helping them out a bit with the word, once they say it, praise and thank them for their help.
I really believe that starting the language learning together can be a great experience for you and you children, I wish you the best of luck and do not hesitate in getting in touch if you need further help.