True bilingualism is a rare, yet beautiful thing, that’s sadly far more common outside of the United States. By exposing our kids to more than one language from an early age, we can help them foster the ability to become global citizens. When children learn a parent’s native language, they are a key part of carrying on traditions and cultures that may not necessarily be their own. The benefits of early bilingualism are clear. Studies have shown that the earlier parents start exposing their child to more than one language, the denser their brain tissue will be in areas that relate to memory, retention, and language.
Here are 6 tips for moms and dads who are trying to help their kids learn a second language:
Make It Fun
First and foremost, introducing your child to your native language should be fun, and not feel like school. Don’t get too hung up on correcting them or worry too much about grammar. Learning two languages at the same time isn’t easy, and if the process is fun and enjoyable, they’ll learn better. Next time you go to the grocery store, try saying the names of different foods in English, as well as your language. Playing Simon Says is also a great way to teach verbs and commands.
Talk, Sing, And Read A Lot
Pediatricians advise that parents talk to young children as much as possible to expose them to language. Try to split this time between the parent’s native language and English to foster a more robust understanding of both languages. Make sure to include reading stories and singing as well!
Introduce non-English languages to your kids as early as possible. Experts agree that the majority of language acquisition happens before age 5, and that starting with two languages from the beginning is best.
After age 5, language acquisition becomes more difficult, and generally less successful. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn a second, third, or even fourth language after age 5. It may just not come as easily.
Don’t Forget About Writing
It’s sadly common for bilingual people of all ages to be illiterate in their second language. To prevent this from happening, make sure to include as much reading and writing as possible. This is obviously going to be more challenging than simply speaking, so it may be wise to invest in a tutor, computer program, or other learning materials.
Tools for Success
Provide as many language learning resources as possible. This includes things like books or flashcards, watching TV programs in non-English languages or downloading apps. Interacting with other kids and adults that speak the same languages is also incredibly beneficial for developing key conversational skills.
Don’t Be Afraid of a Delay
Speech and language delays are more common in bilingual children than they are in monolingual children. This makes a lot of sense because they’re being exposed to different levels of language: say 50% Spanish and 50% English versus their peers who get 100% English. Their vocabulary will likely be split between the two languages, so it’s expected for it to be slightly limited at first. Their brains are developing rapidly, so it’s comforting to remember that any sort of delay is only temporary, and that your child will be caught up with their monolingual peers in no time.
However, you don’t want to write off a delay in bilingual children simply because it’s more common. Be sure to be in close contact with your pediatrician throughout this whole process, and don’t be afraid to reach out for a second opinion if you think something is wrong.
Raising a bilingual child isn’t easy, but with a little courage and determination, it can be extremely exciting and rewarding. Being able to share your cultural traditions with your kids, no matter how far you may be from home, is a beautiful thing. In short, it’s a lot of work, but it’s very much worth it.