Perhaps it’s just me, but the idea of teaching a second language to my daughter seemed like a daunting task. When she was younger, we tried sign language. We used the Signing Time DVD’s and both learned quite a few signs before she could even speak. “Teaching sign language to children requires consistency,” says mom Jessica Cummins. (She took sign language in college and taught it to all three of her children.) “Using the sign every time you use the word helps them correlate the word with the action. It’s really quite interesting because as children learn to associate language with signing, they will often times invent their own signs.”
Even having done this myself, I was still a bit hesitant to move on to a spoken language. I know a little bit of conversational Spanish, but nothing else. The thought of helping my daughter to learn a second language when she’s still getting a grasp on English makes me wonder if this is the right age.
Thankfully, contrary to my own thoughts on learning a second language, studies have shown that “learning a second language does not cause language confusion, language delay or cognitive deficit.” It’s actually been proven that ” children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language.”
With this in mind, we’ve started teaching our 4 1/2 year old daughter Spanish, using the highly recommended Little Pim program including books, flashcards, and DVD’s. Just starting out, I had a lot of questions. So I asked some other moms and experts for their advice:
When should you start teaching a second language?
“The sooner the better!” says Ilia Grubbs, language tutor and author of How to be Awesome at Everything. “It is literally never too early to expose children to other languages. If you speak a foreign language, incorporate it into your daily play. Get a book or two in that language and read them with your child just like you read other books. If you don’t speak another language, there are lots of CD’s, apps, and videos that introduce children to other languages. Watch or listen to them with your child so that you can learn as well, and then practice together. Everyone benefits from learning a language!”
What program should we use?
Ilia also shared her recommendations for programs to use: “Nallenart is a company out of Canada that has some great materials for young children, as well. I often recommend the Muzzy or Little Pim videos to parents because they use native speakers, so the child hears the correct pronunciations. Some of my favorite materials, though, are just regular toys, like a Mr. Potato Head to teach body parts, or paper dolls for clothing vocabulary.”
Is it OK to teach them multiple languages at once?
In short? Yes. Amy, a homeschooling mom and author of Eclectic Homeschooling, teaches her children multiple languages. “I’ve used many different ones for the languages we are learning. The best ones are ones that are not mass-produced for multiple languages, in my opinion. I like using college textbooks and adapting them for my kids. They are designed for lots of out-of-class use so there is plenty of audio. Also, purchasing them used can be a very inexpensive way to go. I also use lots of videos in the foreign language too.”
How can I make it fun for myself and my child?
Half the battle is keeping your child engaged and helping them to enjoy themselves. It’s important to immerse them in the culture to help make it fun and broaden their horizons. To incorporate a full cultural experience and tie-in words to the objects they represent, have your child help you with cooking a meal from the country of the language you’re studying. Plan to celebrate a special holiday and label everything in the language. Speak to each other as much as possible in the second language for a day. All of these ideas will help your child to learn in a way that is fun and not intimidating.
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Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, Still Standing Magazine, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post, with smaller glimpses into her day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.