Twofers: Speaking A Second Language
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By Mia Bolaris-Forget
Most children from my generation grew up speaking or at least understanding at minimum two languages. And, as teens most of us were required to study another language, much of which stayed with us at least until early adulthood.
In fact, experts suggest that in years gone by, it was not unusual for children to have parents, grandparents or both from another country or countries and for more than one tongue to be spoken in the average household. And, we all know that European kids are, for the most part, multilingual.
Still, as time and generations have gone by and most of our parents and families have embraced the American culture, so too have we seemingly forgotten our “roots” foregoing our lineage and our heritage. And, in fact, for many, being truly American and showing staunch patriotism may have translated into “English” only philosophies.
Still, with an increasingly integrated society and multifaceted and multicultural world, many modern day parents are once again beginning to see the advantages of ensuring their children develop extensive language skills.
Experts suggest that the younger the child, the “easier” for him or her to pick up words and language skills, mastering a variety of languages, possibly even before school age. In fact they recommend not only teaching them the second language parents or grandparents may speak, but also getting them to tune into shows such as Dora The Explorer, Diego or Sesame Street which reinforce Spanish skills; as well as registering them for language classes that will teach them new languages and reinforce the acquired speaking skills. And, they add, learning new languages also helps children gain appreciation and develop a newfound respect for people from other backgrounds and cultures; anther very important skill for our increasingly multicultural society and world. Finally, studies suggest that those who are bilingual or multilingual tend to also be more creative thinkers whose brain function gets sharper with age.
Here’s a guideline on how to get started:
Put Language Skills At The Top Of The Priority List: Start teaching kids more than one language as you begin to teach them to talk. Experts suggest that by the age of two and three children are not only expanding their vocabulary and speaking skills but are also recognizing speech patterns they have been exposed to since birth. So, the sooner you get started the easier for your child to pick up unique sounds and words. Try speaking to your child in another tongue, turning on music and TV shows in other languages, and giving him or her a good head start for more formal training later.
Teach By Example: According to experts, the best and easiest way for children to pick up another language is by hearing it, preferably spoken fluently and on a consistent basis. If you already speak another language, consider speaking to your child in that language when you are out in public or when at home. Otherwise have him or her tune in to daily television programming that will teach him or her a foreign language and reinforce (each day) what he or she is beginning to or has already learned. Also, if you have a bilingual babysitter, consider asking her to teach your child a few words or to speak to him or her in her native tongue.
Take A One By One Approach: Don’t expect your child to pick up or repeat entire sentences or phrases all at once. Instead build your child’s understanding, vocabulary and foreign language “vernacular” one word at a time. Give your child the word for a particular object in each language and allow him or her to start recognizing it as such. Before you know it the interchangeable words and their meaning will be “natural”.
Don’t Expect Too Much: Unless the language is being spoken “at home”, it’s likely your child won’t “master” it, but instead pick up some key words and/or phrases. Remember, keeping your expectations and praising accomplishments may further motivate your child to continue learning and succeed. Remember, it’s often more important that a youngster learn to grasp concepts and ideas (in other languages) than to be able to have a full-blown conversation.
Experts go on to offer additional advice for parents who are themselves, bilingual.
· Create Language “Barriers:” Teach you child that one language is typically spoken in the home (except, well, for exceptions), and one out in public. You can also teach your child to address mom in one language and dad in other, or parents in one language and grandparents in another.
· Cut Kids Some Slack: While kids are sponges that “do” absorb information faster than we do, they are still learning and may get confused. Expect them to mix up words or use them improperly. Give them time to grasp the concept and in no time they’ll be able to transition from one language to another with ease.
· Give Kids Credit When Credit Is Due: Some children who speak two languages may show more progress in one language over another. This, say experts is natural and that, overall, they probably know more words and meanings than their peers.
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Twofers: Speaking A Second Language