How To Introduce A Young Child To A Second Language

November 17, 2020

Learning a second language might be one of the most important things you teach your child. Even if a child comes from a single-language household, a family can work together to expose their young children to new languages and encourage learning one or more additional languages. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to speaking multiple languages as a baby, toddler, and young child increases brain activity, stimulating development and a higher capacity to learn overall. 

The Many Benefits To Young Children Of Learning A Second Language 

We are living in a world where communication and partnership between countries are more important than ever. It is entirely possible that becoming proficient in more than one language can substantially improve a person’s career and income prospects. That is not the only benefit of exposing a young child to another language; here are some other great reasons to work with another language:

  • Connecting with others and respecting other cultures. 
  • Feeding and strengthening the brain as it develops at a critical time.
  • Traveling more easily later in life.
  • Learning your native language better as you learn how language is developed in other countries.
  • Boosting confidence and becoming active learners. 
  • Learning more easily when young and having a linguistic advantage later. 
  • Helping the brain stay nimble; babies and young children can learn more than two languages at once because their brains’ language centers are so active.

Now that we know how important it is to expose young children to a second language, how do we go about doing it? Babies learn language rapidly because they are immersed in it. The watch and listen as communication happens all around them. They learn by memorization and repetition. These same methods will help them learn multiple languages. Here are seven activities you can use to help introduce a second language to children under the age of five. 

#1. Language Immersion Days And Everyday Language Use 

Growing up in a bilingual environment leads to the fastest learning of more than one language at a time. If you do not have a household that is naturally bilingual, that does not mean you cannot use these same immersion techniques. A common way to create a bilingual environment is to have certain days of the week where you speak only (or mostly) in the second language. For earlier stage learners, you can introduce two languages at the same time by repeating the names of objects in the second language as you teach the first. For example, holding up fruit and saying “apple” and then following that with “manzana” for teaching Spanish. 

#2. Watch Media That Features Other Languages 

Like it or not, kids learn a lot of language from watching cartoons on TV and other media sources. You can use this love of screen time to your advantage as more and more bilingual TV shows for kids are being made, like the now-classic Dora The Explorer show. More and more shows are being developed all the time featuring different languages. If you cannot find a language you are looking for, try watching children’s TV from other countries on platforms like YouTube. 

#3. Use Language Apps Or Programs

Speaking of screen time, check out this list of great language learning apps for young children from Common Sense Media. Apps are a great way to learn a second language, because they are interactive and include bright, colorful games that children enjoy playing. Gamifying learning is a common way to keep children engaged and coming back for more. 

#4. Travel With Young Children

If you can afford to, take opportunities to travel with your children. The thought of getting a passport and hopping on a plane might come quickly to mind, but there might be other ways to accomplish this closer to home as well. 

If you are lucky enough to travel, you’ll be able to fully immerse your child in both the language and culture of another country, which has countless benefits. Even if you cannot travel that far, you might have local communities where the language is used more often. Research to see if there are pockets of your city that contain multicultural districts and shops you can visit. 

#5. Play Language Games

Kids learn a lot through play, so get into the habit of engaging with these language games a few times a week or more. Here are a few examples:

  • Classics like charades or Pictionary, but use second language words
  • Memory games that match a word with the photo.
  • Word bingo.

Many common games can be adapted to helping learn a second language with just a little relabeling. A pen and some post-it notes are all you need! 

#6. Get An Online Tutor

There are many language schools you can sign up with that will give you access to video chatting with tutors who speak the language you are trying to teach. You can easily connect with a tutor for Spanish, Japanese, Italian, or any other language you can think of. If no adult in your child’s life speaks a second language fluently, this could be a great opportunity to make sure they are learning conversational language that will help them accurately communicate with others. 

#7. Read Multicultural And Bilingual Children’s Books 

Children’s board books — photo or picture books with fewer words — are a great way to introduce a second language to your child. Many people want to introduce their children to Spanish in the US as it is the second most common language spoken there. Here is a list of great children’s books that include both English and Spanish words. Spending time reading together will help you both learn the new language. 

Nothing will motivate your child more than seeing you also enjoying learning and using a second language. This is a great learning adventure you can take together and provides lots of bonding and memory-making opportunities in the process. 

Author Bio

Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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