Experts are now beginning to understand the value of foreign language learning for young children. Beyond the obvious benefits of communication and global perspective, studies have indicated that bilingual children score better on standardized tests and are better problem-solvers than their monolingual peers. Fortunately for parents and educators, early childhood is the easiest time to learn a foreign language. There are several steps you can take to help your young child grasp the basics of a second language, broadening his or her world in a fun and educational way.
Learn a little of the language yourself, if you don't already know it. Children learn by imitating authority figures -- by using the target language yourself, you create a pattern of success for your child.
Begin teaching your child as early as possible. Children's unique ability for internalizing language decreases over time. Although some parents worry that introducing multiple languages to a young child can create confusion, studies have shown that children can identify and compartmentalize separate languages by the age of 3.
Make language learning organic. Rather than "teaching" your child, allow the process to occur naturally, in the same manner that the child learns his or her native language. Allow your child to hear and imitate speech patterns in the target language by playing television or radio programs. If you speak the language yourself, speak to your child often.
Teach vocabulary simultaneously in both languages. Avoid the temptation to view foreign language learning as distinct from native language learning. Any time you introduce a new word or concept to your child, make sure to name it in both languages.
- Look online for learning material. There are many online courses and collections of teaching material designed especially to teach a foreign language to young children. Websites for native speaking kids are good sources of child-friendly material, and they can teach young learners about the culture of the language they're studying.
- Young children usually go through a silent period. When you begin speaking a foreign language to a young child, she'll most likely understand long before she answers in that language. Don't worry if the children you teach only answer in their native language at first. Keep using the foreign language and eventually they'll respond.
Michael Cohen has been a technical writer since 2006. His areas of expertise include classical music and nonprofit management, and his work has been featured across a variety of media platforms. Cohen received his bachelor's degree from The New School in New York City.