It’s never too early to begin learning a language: it’s fun, it promotes healthy development, and the many cognitive and social benefits will last a lifetime.
Learning a language puts your child at a significant advantage, and you can help—whether or not you know another language.
Babies and toddlers are geniuses at learning languages, why not make the most of this amazing skill and introduce a new language at home.
Teaching a second language to your baby, toddler or preschooler 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.
“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 0-3 years of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS (University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences) and an UW professor of speech and hearing sciences.
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.
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 morning a week or after their nap, or even just at the weekends. 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 learn 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 great tools for learning. Children are focused on looking at the pictures and enjoying the shared time. Try finding books in the target language, I would recommend simple, picture focused books. You can also use the books you have at home and look up the words you will need. Start with single words, point to the pictures and repeat.
Learn through action songs
For babies I would choose finger play songs, upper body and 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 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.
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…“ help them with the word and once they say it, praise and thank them for their help.
I really believe that starting language learning together can be a great experience for you and your children. I wish you the best of luck and do not hesitate in getting in touch if you need further help.
Josefina is an experienced language teacher and started Nanos Spanish classes and online courses for little ones to follow her belief in the importance of introducing a second language in early childhood. You can find her classes in south West London here and her online courses for preschool children here.