Helping Your Kids Build a Foreign Language Vocabulary

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We all know that our kids can do anything if they set their minds to it. Kids have such amazing abilities. I mean, my boys, they know that they can make their own games, create comic books and defeat evil. Out of the mouth of babes…things are so simple for children.

So, how does this relate to foreign languages? Simple. When they have a desire to learn another language, they will succeed. They do not see it as being as complicated as we do; the task before them is not daunting at all. I have had my children say once or twice to me I admit, that I need to just try and see that I can do it. Faith. Such great faith.

Helping Your Kids Build a Foreign Language Vocabulary - By Jennifer K.

How can we help them to succeed? How can we support and encourage them in this thing that is so intimating to many of us?

We know that children learn by doing. They learned their first language that way and they can learn many more just like that. Its not so hard. When we make it a part of something that they enjoy, it will be fun and easy! After all, isn’t play how most children learn? Its how thy understand things, how they see something as relating to their life. Play makes things real and tangible, for children of all ages. When we relax, and just let them experience something, its amazing what they learn. Don’t worry about grammar or proper sentence structure – for the time being anyway.

Let’s talk. My kids talk a lot. I mean, they don’t stop and we have some great conversations full of learning in this way! Even when they are small and don’t have a big vocabulary, there are still ways to expand and make the little that is known, go a long way.

Did you know that there is actually something called “parentese”?  It is said that these are the language skills which are used to facilitate language learning in children. Well, maybe not just children, perhaps anyone who is learning a language that is new to them.  Its a way of talking to someone that encourages and expands what they know, from something small to something greater.

How can we enhance this “parentese” skill? We all want to see our children do their best and who knows a child better than their momma? Or daddy? We are sensitive to the needs of our children, we understand how they best learn and we understand their fears and their joys. This is how we guide our children in their learning. As we see their interests develop and curiosity piqued, we seek to fill in the blanks. We talk and share what we know with them so that they can learn too!  We slow down, we repeat things, we pause more so we know they understand and we are more patient so that they can ask questions. We use “real” language. We aren’t speaking as a professional, we aren’t always even speaking as a teacher, but as one that loves our children and is excited to see their excitement for something new. There is interaction. As they get older there is collaboration.

When it comes to language learning these things are so important. Think about it, when we interact with someone we are providing a real experience. Immersion is one of the best ways to learn a language and that is because of how real it makes the experience; it becomes something that happens naturally. If our children are good listeners they will be able to pay attention and also get a greater meaning from the interaction they are a part of.  This will give them such a rich experience and help them to grow in leaps and bounds when it comes to their language learning. Of course they also need to learn how to hear.  When we hear properly we receive and understand the information being shared with us. This is different than listening. Both are important and can be exercised by the interactions we have with one another; repetition is key.

So, offer lots of encouragement and praise. Get excited when they tell you a new word or phrase they have learned. Help find ways to motivate your child as they learn. Make sure they have great expectations too! Make sure they know that you expect them to be successful in this and if possible, connect them with other kids or adults that speak the language themselves. They need to be confident in their abilities and this comes from us making sure that they know we support them.

To help them develop a vocabulary consider some of the following games:

Simon Says – Choose a name that is common to the language being learned and then whatever is said, make it in that language.  You can do this for parts of the body household items and various movements.

Memory Game – Make your own cards and place (or draw) images of words onto them. You can even write the word in the language on the bottom of the card,  As each card is turned over, say the name for the image on the card. The winner has the most cards.

Bingo – Make 18 cards (or more or less depending on size) and two boards, The cards need to make the images on the board.  One person picks the cards and calls out the image (we write the word for the image on the card) Keep going and shuffle the cards as needed until someone has a BINGO! Or until all spaces are covered on the board!

Snap – You need 20 pairs of picture cards and put them into two piles. One pile goes in front of each payer. If you have more than two divide them up according to the number of players.  As each person chooses their card they must name it and when two cards are the same whoever shouts out “SNAP” (in whatever language you are learning) first, gets the cards. Keep going until all the cards are gone.

Funny Clowns – This is a dice game and it doesn’t have to be clowns. When we first found this one it was called “Beetle”. Each player begins when they throw a six. As you throw the dice you say the number and body part of your clown. His body (6), His head (5), arms (4), eyes (1), legs (3), nose (2), mouth (2).  Whoever completes their clown first (or whatever you choose to draw) is the winner.

These are just a couple things you can use to help encourage your child in their language learning experience. If you’d like you can consider purchasing, or checking out, books or videos and music in the language being learned as well. There are some great books out there for building a child’s vocabulary.  A great one for Spanish learning is My First Hundred Words in Spanish and my son loves the First Thousand Words in Chinese. There is even a DVD, First Fun with French (this is available for other languages too!)  These three titles are fabulous tools for starting your little and big ones on an exciting language learning journey!

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