There is no reason your child cannot learn another language while also learning his first language.
In fact, it is easier to learn a new and different language at a younger age than in one’s adolescent or adult years. In a world where we find ourselves exposed to so many new people, cultures and experiences, learning another language can be extremely beneficial.
Language is not just a way to communicate with others. It can increase your child’s vocabulary, social literacy, and sense of self. By learning the language of your culture, you teach him something about where he comes from, and his place in the world. Here are some tips to help you support your child in learning another language…and you can start even if your child isn’t talking yet. He is still listening and learning.
Tips for Your Baby/Toddler (Birth to 36 months):
- Speak slowly, repeat key words, make eye-contact: Teaching your child two languages at once can be challenging and at times, overwhelming. Keep in mind the ways in which you would teach your child one language; speaking slowly, repeating key words, making eye-contact, using gestures and facial expressions as well as pointing to, or holding up objects as you say the word for it. Use these same strategies when teaching your child another language, but remember you need to be extra patient and clear so as not to confuse or overwhelm your child.
- Use music and rhymes: For children, learning language is often much easier through music and rhyming. The same is true for learning a second language. Music and rhymes often tell stories and include changes in voice and expressions, which makes them more fun than ordinary conversations. Choose a song or rhyme for bed time, for waking up and other daily routines so that your child has a chance to make connections between the song and her routines. Sharing songs and rhymes together also helps strengthen the parent-child bond, and may become something that your child passes down to her kids.
- Be consistent in your approach: There is no wrong way to teach a second or third language to your child, but remember that consistency is a key. Choose an approach and stick with it or else words, phrases and gestures may become jumbled with other languages spoken in the house, and the confusion may lead to frustration and stress. Regardless, speak to your child in the language you feel most comfortable speaking in. This will increase the chances that your child will learn this new language with the proper words, grammar and tenses.
Tips for Your Preschooler (36 months to 48 months):
- Use specific languages with specific people, in specific places: For example, you can keep one language for use in the home, and another language for use in the school or childcare facility. Or, one parent can speak language A with the child, the other parent, or another caregiver, can speak language B. The one-person, one-language approach allows your child to learn both languages in a way that does not confuse him, but maximizes the opportunity to practice both languages.
- Get your child’s teacher involved: Speak to your child’s teachers or caregivers about how you are supporting your child with learning a new language. Give them a few key words or phrases that will help your child communicate with her teachers throughout the day to limit her frustration and stress. If possible, ask if you can come in and talk about your family’s culture to the other kids, and ask your child to help teach the class some words or phrases. This may inspire other families from different cultures to do the same. When you involve others in your child’s learning, you increase her chances of success.
- Explain the benefits of a second language: Have a conversation with your child about why he is learning a new language, and what it means to others outside of the home. This is an ideal time to talk about more complex matters concerning heritage, culture and that not everyone is the same. Other children may ask why your child doesn’t talk much or speaks with a “funny accent”, which may make your child feel like an outsider and insecure. Assure your child that in time, those feelings will go away. He will feel more confident as he is exposed to more and more of the new language.
Want more tips? Read all of the tips from our partnership with Infant Mental Health Promotion at SickKids.