I’m so pleased to have Judy Martialay guest posting for us. We’ve recently reviewed her book, ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish and she has a lot of helpful advice for us parents to help our children learn a second language.
You want your child to learn another language. Great! You’re about to give your child a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Why Start early?
The ideal time to start learning a language is as early as possible. Children have the capacity to acquire native pronunciation; their brains are wired to hear and reproduce any sound in any human language. We lose this ability as we grow older. Maybe you know someone whose native language is not English, but who moved to your English-speaking country before age 12. Chances are that person speaks without a foreign accent.
Children learn languages with less effort than adults. They accept different patterns of speech easily; maybe this is because their language habits are not so deeply ingrained. If they continue learning the language, they will have more time to learn the complexities of a language and to become truly proficient. Adults often don’t have the time, so they have less chances of becoming bilingual.
Also, since children have many years ahead of them in school, learning a language will give them more advantages. Research has shown that children with second languages have greater cognitive ability, better thinking skills, improved memory, greater mastery of their own language, higher verbal skills, more tolerance for diversity, more respect for other cultures, and better appreciation of their own culture. They can communicate directly with millions more people, and have better opportunities for employment. Because of the development of mental capacity, the onset of dementia in bilingual people can be delayed by up to five years.
But I Can’t Speak Another Language!
So, you want your child to begin learning another language, but you don’t speak the language. What can you do?
The best answer is to start learning the language yourself. By learning the language, you show your child that you value language learning. Besides, you can have a lot of fun together. You don’t have to be perfect. If you know someone who speaks the language, have that person also speak with your child, so he or she hears the native pronunciation.
There are free online programs for learning language in many libraries. Those are intended more for you. The Japanese and Chinese online library lessons that I took had many common expressions. As you listen and repeat, remember to keep an open ear and you’ll do fine!
Starting With Small Children
If you have small children who are just learning to speak, get a program where you can learn some simple words and phrases that you can both use every day. For example, start with naming objects or people, like “a cow”, “a baby”, “an orange”, “the eyes”. If the language has articles (‘the”, “a”), use them with the words. Repeat frequently; that way, both you and your child will learn.
My baby granddaughter is learning to speak. She is fortunate in that she has an au pair girl from Colombia who speaks to her in Spanish. She doesn’t say much yet in English or Spanish, but when we ask her in Spanish, where is your mouth, your nose, she can point. Understanding comes before speaking. She is starting to repeat what she hears. While I was writing this, I saw a video that my daughter sent me: they were in the park, and some ducks were walking by. My daughter said: !Hola, patos! (Hi, ducks!), and she repeated. That’s the way we learned to speak our language.
So, add little words, make short sentences, as you would in English: “Look at the..” “Where is the…”. As you learn, you can add more: like “the dog is big”, or “Do you like..”?
Use fun expressions like “That’s great!” or “What a shame!” “That’s awful!” “What happened?” “That’s cool” (in Spanish, at least, the word for “cool” varies from one country to another.)
Don’t worry about confusing your child; you want him or her to hear the foreign sounds while he or she still has the capacity to recognize and reproduce them. The latest research indicates that the more words your child hears and learns, the better.
You’re about to give your child a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Beginning With Older Children
Buy a program where you and your child can learn together; make sure that it has an audio version, so you hear the correct pronunciation. If you have children age 6-10, check out my book, ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish (affiliate link). It’s written just for you, whether or not you speak Spanish, it gives both of you an easy and fun start in learning the language. The audio version is free and downloadable at my website, Polyglotkidz.com. There are tips for parents on the Parents’ page.
By the way, children in elementary/primary school don’t learn grammar rules in FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) classes, they internalize the patterns as they use them. Repitition is important for language learning. The goal is to reach the point where you know that what you are saying “sounds” correct, and it is correct!
If there are no FLES classes in your town’s elementary school, try to convince the local Board of Education or those responsible to begin these classes. Go with other parents, there is strength in numbers.
As I said before, it’s good if you know a native person who can speak to your child. It’s even better if you know a child of the age of your child who speaks the language. After a certain age, children want to be like their peers. Look into getting a pen-pal or e-pal for your child. With Skype, children can enjoy sessions where they can see and talk to one another.
You may want to consider arranging exchange lessons for yourself with a native speaker of the language who wants to learn English.
At whatever age, whatever language, whatever program, have fun. Play games, sing songs, learn short poems, and have contests. There are lots of websites that have materials for language learning. For starters, go to the parents’ page on NNELL(National Network for Language Learning) website and follow those links.
Be sure to encourage and your child for his or her successes. Remind your child often of the value of knowing another language.
Involve The Whole Family
Here are some ideas for your whole family to enjoy using the language. Plan a trip to a country where the language is spoken. Go to a restaurant where the food from that country is served, and speak to the waiters in the language. At home, have a time reserved for speaking only that language. Take out movies in the language with English subtitles; Watch your child’s favorite movies in the language. Ask your child to teach some words or phrases to his/her younger brothers and sisters and other family members. Join a group of people who already speak or who are learning the language.
If the school doesn’t have language classes, think of after-school or Saturday classes. If your child is old enough, there are summer camps for learning the language.
Find one or more of the many websites written by parents, often monolingual, who are raising their children bilingual. You will be fascinated by their experience; you can get more ideas from them, and share your impressions with other parents who want to give their children this big advantage.
If you’d like to try out Judy’s system of learning Spanish, you can purchase her book through Amazon:
Judy Martialay taught Foreign Language in elementary school, middle and high school. During and after retirement, she devoted time to public advocacy for foreign language education with the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.
Her dream is to give all children the opportunity to experience a foreign language, as early as possible.
You can find out more about her through her website, Polyglotkidz.com