Research shows that children who speak another language perform better across all academic subjects. They are more confident, creative, have better problem-solving skills and more cultural awareness – invaluable in today’s multicultural society. School leavers with knowledge of foreign languages stand much better chances of getting better jobs as today’s global marketplace means multilingual staff are in great demand.
It is never too early. A study by Bristol University has shown that even babies under 9 months old who hear nursery rhymes sung by native speakers will find it easier to pick up new languages in school or as adults.
Children learn naturally as with their first language. They won’t see it as a chore. If it is introduced through games and music they will absorb the language quickly and naturally. A child’s brain grows most rapidly between 0 and 3 years old, therefore exposing a child to a new language at this age means new brain cells are likely to develop.
By learning another language, children will understand their own language better too. By seeing how another language is structured they will identify new words in English more easily.
You don’t need to teach your child to become fluent, at this stage you just need to introduce them to the sounds of the new language and basic words. It is an ideal opportunity for you both to learn together. Spend time watching DVDs in the foreign language, listen to songs and CDs. Identify key words you can use in everyday life; foods, drinks, numbers.
1. Buy a bilingual dictionary. Look up simple words that you use every day. There are many picture dictionaries aimed at young children and also come with an audio CD or have a web-link to a sound library so that you can hear the words pronounced.
2. Expose your child to the language as much as possible. Listen to a CD of nursery rhymes sung by native speakers. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the words, it is important to hear the sounds of the language. Purchase DVD’s featuring topics such as numbers, animals or colours. Read stories to your child in the language – especially of stories they already know for example, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”.
3. Practice! Incorporate the new words into everyday life. Count as you go up the stairs, name the fruit and vegetables when shopping, look at pictures and ask your child questions about what they can see, i.e. what colour is it?, what animals can you see? Label furniture around the house. Use the language at home, in the car, in shops.
4. Praise your child and don’t get cross if they make a mistake.
5. Make it fun and don’t force your child to learn if they aren’t ready.
Check out “The Little Linguists” website with fantastic products in a wide range of languages.
BBC languages website has a wide range of free online language learning audio, videos, interactive exercises aimed at children.
Have a look at our “Spanish for Children” webpage to find out how we help children and parents learn languages.