Do you speak a foreign language? If English is your native tongue, then chances are that you aren’t fluent in a second or third language. If you are, you’re definitely in the minority! Those who live in other countries, though, are often fluent in languages other than the one that they speak natively. There are many advantages to being able to speak foreign languages, from ease of communication in a global market, to the ability to make new friends, to understanding English grammar better. I have always wished that I were fluent in another language, mostly so that I could raise my children to be bilingual! I started learning German as an adult, and I have found that it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be. If you are interested in helping your kids learn a foreign language, here are some tips:
- If you speak another language, then begin using it when communicating with your kids. If you do this from the time they are babies, your children should grow up fluent in both your other language and English. Studies have shown that if one parent speaks in a foreign language and the other parent in English, the children’s speech might be delayed by a few months as they work to piece together which words go with which language, but it will all even out and they’ll enjoy the benefits of being bilingual.
- If you and your partner only speak English, try to expose your child to someone else who speaks another language fluently. It might be a grandmother, a nanny or a neighbor. Ask the other person to simply play with your child while speaking in the target language: when kids are little, they’ll simply pick it up, much as they did English! Even older kids benefit from this, as they can hear the language as people actually use it, and not only in the way it’s presented in textbooks.
- Try to appeal to different learning styles. If your child is older and is taking, for example, a French class in school, supplement it by watching French movies (with or without subtitles in English), listening to French music, streaming French radio stations via the Internet, playing games using French vocabulary words, and using an audio program, such as Pimsleur. Remember that people learn from visual, audio and touch stimulation, so make sure that your child is exposed to the language through her eyes, ears and hands/muscles.
- Make it a family affair. Learning all together is much more fun, satisfying and effective for your child than for him to learn all by himself. This is particularly true if he’s not able to take lessons in his target language in school. If everyone is learning together, you can have “Italian night” once per week, where you try to only talk in your target language. (Having a native speaker stop by to listen and help you would be a definite advantage — maybe you could trade a home-cooked dinner for language help once per month or so!)
- Don’t forget to learn about culture! You can’t truly understand a foreign language without knowing something about the culture that it comes from. Visit ethnic restaurants, read books and try to talk to people who hail from the countries where your target language is spoken. Maybe you can even plan a visit!
Are you bilingual? Are your children? Do you have any tips to share in making it easier to learn a foreign language?