I remember when my oldest first wanted to learn Chinese. I said, “No way. I don’t speak Chinese.” I speak German, but there was no way my oldest wanted to learn that one. We tried to encourage French, maybe Spanish since my husband and I remember a bit of both. Yet, my son would not be moved and no matter how we tried to encourage and convince, he was not going to be moved. It was Chinese or bust! Almost two years later, my son is able to send letters to his grandparents, in Chinese even, and enjoys at least a basic vocabulary.
Since then I have met many other families who want to teach their children a foreign language but are overwhelmed. They do not speak the language and so, perhaps it seems a bit impossible. Is that how you feel? I know I did. So, I want to share with you a couple of tips on how to really make the learning a foreign language experience a not so scary one. Maybe your child’s interest will help encourage the whole family to learn together?
To begin, of course the experience must be fun. So, in all things try to keep the learning fun, something that everyone enjoys. In fact, bit of silliness will take you a long way! Since learning a language doesn’t happen overnight too, you must be patient and always positive.
There is an excellent book, The Bilingual Edge, that helps guide parents as to what resources simply do not work. They especially warn against materials like:
- Foreign TV
- Language DVD’s
- Talking Toys
- Many software programs
The fact is there are too many materials out there, all of which promise success and to quote the book above:
“Many promises end in disappointment – in part because these products and programs are unfortunately not based how children actually learn languages.”
It’s surprising right? I always thought that all those toys and videos were a big help. If they are not then what is there? I know many years ago my son had a couple language learning toys, mostly electronic and all those cute videos too! Nothing against Ni Hao and Diego (we still watch them when we can), but they cannot be the main method we rely on to teach our kids.
Its not rocket science, really, but the best way to learn a foreign language is…
Interaction with Others
You can learn together as a family, just mom and daughter or dad and son; maybe you could find some folks in the area who are also learning, or know the language and are willing to encourage you all in your journey. Learning a foreign language needs to be personal and you need opportunities to use it regularly. It doesn’t matter how bad you are, just do it. After all, learning is a process.
Our family has hosted many foreign exchange students and we have always found that most the students that come here take every opportunity to use the language (full immersion) and they do amazingly well. We have also had some with very poor language skills and they are always quiet, only using the language when they must.
As with anything we must exercise our abilities if want to be able to do them well. Incorporate foreign language learning into your everyday routines: naming food by their foreign name, singing silly songs, greeting one another; find some picture books (Usbourne’s First Thousand Words in Chinese, label things in the home with their foreign name, etc.
There are even games out there that can help encourage the skills needed; games like Kloo (for French and Spanish); you race to Madrid or Paris by learning words and making sentences! Believe it or not its color code system means you can start making sentences in French or Spanish within 30 seconds – even if you’re an absolute beginner!
Learning a language is a big deal. We want it to be fun, but we have to remember that in order to really progress it has to be more than just a thing we do a few times a week, for a half an hour. We need to immerse ourselves in it. Throughout the day, be creative, find opportunities to use what you are learning and have fun!
Has your family ever tried to learn a foreign language together?