Help Your Children Learn a Foreign Language

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Learning a new language is hard, but it can seem impossible to some of us. Yet, it isn’t. In fact, it can be a great experience for the whole family!

If you think you can’t learn a new language, take a moment and remember your child as a newborn baby. Thanks to you that baby isn’t so small anymore and they speak fluently too.

Help Your Children Learn a Foreign Language - By Jennifer K.

If you have the interest, you can be enthusiastic and encouraging! That’s all you need to help your children learn whatever language(s) they are interested in learning.

My children are currently learning: Chinese, Spanish, French and German. We also dabble in Hebrew (mostly momma does) and a little Latin, for fun!

I wasn’t raised in a trilingual or bilingual home, but my mother taught me to love learning and to never give up. I did have an Aunt who was deaf, so we learned quite a bit of sign language through the years. I used some sign language with my kids when they were little and I plan on using it more with my baby when she is a bit bigger. I’ve also studied French and German and even had the opportunity to live and study in Germany when I was younger. Today we absolutely love hosting foreign exchange students; there are so many exciting doors that are opened to our kids when we have a language (or three) under our belts.

So how can I help my child learn? 

When our kids are little they are eager to learn because they are curious about everything! We need to take advantage of that and offer them every opportunity we can.  Languages are so much fun for kids because of the sounds that they get to make using different accents and different letters. My five year old son loves to hear himself roll those “r’s” (Though I still can’t do it no matter how I try).

More than 2/3 of children around the world grow up speaking two to three languages. Some children learn even more. It’s considered a part of their learning; thus it is not at all unusual. Rather it is a daily activity that they engage in (like math, reading, music lessons, etc). The advantages of learning  multiple languages certainly is great! You commonly see advertisements for employment, seeking those who speak one or more languages, so learning a foreign language can be beneficial to your children in their future careers!

Learning a Foreign Language is Hard! 

Maybe it was for us? Perhaps we had a bad teacher? Maybe we didn’t get the help and encouragement we needed? In my case, I just did not use what I learned and so, like most things, it became harder to use as time went on. Children are quick learners, if we show a positive attitude and are encouraging, nothing is too hard for them! As homeschoolers we know how important relationships are in education right? When you have a good teacher, you learned to love that subject. The relationships we have, can make or break, the language learning experience.

If we want to help our children to learn a foreign language, the key is for there to be a relationship there for them to practice what they are learning. When we had our “son” from China with us, my oldest had the opportunity to practice Mandarin. When we had our “daughter” from Spain, he could practice Spanish and our “daughter” from France allowed more practice. My German has become better since he began learning with me and we began practicing what we learn together. Without dialogue back and forth, it’s much harder to learn a foreign language.

Just as our children may or may not engage in conversation with a complete stranger, they may not be eager or able to engage in conversation with someone in Spanish, or Russian, Chinese, or French if they are not comfortable with the person to whom they are speaking. There has to be a relationship in place for them to be willing and able to truly communicate. That being said, as the parent, we are of course, the best teachers for our children since we know and understand them best of all.

If you cannot speak the language being learned at all, that is okay. It’s all about the opportunities placed before your child. His abilities will only increase the more he has the chance to use what he is learning. We need to show an interest in what they are learning and we need to encourage them as well.

How Can I Measure My Child’s Achievements? 

We all have goals in life; learning a foreign language is no different. For my oldest son we encourage him to: increase his ability to concentrate and focus on activities. I encourage him to learn how to find the answers he needs (study skills), gain confidence in speaking/reading/writing and be more positive in his learning.

We also have long term goals for him such as: understand more about the language (not just memorizing words and phrases) from grammar to cultural and historical aspects of words or characters; use the language being learned and understand the culture. For some foreign languages (such as Chinese) one of his goals to be able to write 10-15 characters independently.

If your child were learning Spanish perhaps a goal would be for them to be able to read one children’s book independently or write a short story, in Spanish. Can they sing a song or play a game from that part of the world? Maybe they could even cook a dish that is from that ethnicity!

Tips for Success: 

Studies show time and again that children who learn foreign language have greater learning skills. The experience of learning a foreign language gives them a greater understanding of how to learn. It also adds a new dimension to any interests the child may have which further inspires curiosity! Languages help children develop more patience and greater flexibility. It also allows them to become more creative in their ideas and problem solving skills. All they truly need from us is our time, love, patience, encouragement, and lots of praise!

Our children learn by imitation. They also are quite flexible (especially when they are young), so we need to not underestimate what they can do. We need to see their successes and rejoice in those with them daily. Consider learning with your child or having your child teach you after they complete their lesson each day. Look for jokes, songs, books and videos that you can use together. Consider labeling various things in foreign languages around the house to reinforce what is being learned. Play games, make special dishes or crafts, the possibilities are endless! Whatever you do, be sure to make language learning a shared family experience, with lots of fun!

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