It’s no secret: Learning a language can really help your child get ahead in life. It strengthens CVs and bolsters college applications, improves their communication skills and equips them for travels and a career abroad. It can even boost their brain power and protect them from dementia later on in life.
Once you’ve helped them decide which language they’re interested in, there are several things that you can do to help your child master a new language faster.
1. Speak it too
If you’re already bilingual or multilingual, speak to your child in the languages you already speak as soon as you can. Continuous exposure introduces the concept of multilingualism to children early on in life and in a very natural way.
An early start to language learning is also helpful because it makes it easier for kids to pick up new language skills later in life – they will think of multilingualism as natural, have a basis in the sounds and flow of the new language, and even give them a basic foundation for learning a new language from scratch.
In addition to the passive learning they are exposed to if you speak the language at home, a little active learning can go a long way – and can set the stage for a positive relationship with language learning for life.
Try incorporating new languages into your daily life with your child by doing fun vocab exercises with them in the evening with child-friendly flashcards or language learning apps.
2. Help them keep a schedule
With older children, more conscious practice is essential and as a parent you can do a lot to support the development of healthy learning habits.
Practice really does make perfect, so making sure your child sits down to practice writing, improve their comprehension and review class notes regularly is key. Memory is aided by repetition and children’s learning habits are proven to respond well to structure.
If you can plan an hour or so into every day, it’ll sink in far faster than if they only connect with the language once or twice a week.
3. Bury their nose in a book
Children’s books are filled with varied but simple vocabulary and the basics of language structure and grammar – in other words, they offer the perfect foundation for learning a new language.
As small children have a natural love of reading – and love it when their parents read to them – reading books in the language they are learning is an incredibly powerful way to make progress every day.
Older children may need more encouragement, but ensuring they complement their learning with active reading in the target language is essential to making the new language stick. As their reading skills in the foreign language improve, ensure they have access to foreign copies of books they already love, like Harry Potter.
4. Find a new TV series
Try turning screen time into another channel for language exposure (it won’t be a hard sell, we promise).
If you’re a parent of small kids, try changing the language settings on their favorite show on Netflix. Most shows are available in multiple languages and kids who are already exposed to that language won’t find it as difficult to follow their favorite show in a foreign language as you think – children are more patient and open than adults tend to be to that kind of ‘discomfort’.
For teenagers, research popular shows or sitcoms in the language you’re learning (here are our suggestions for superhero shows to learn English with, for example). Sitting down regularly to watch a 20-minute program of normal conversation in a foreign language can help them learn to follow spoken dialogue and introduce them to colloquialisms or slang.
5. Send them abroad
We’re not talking purchasing a one-way plane ticket and tearfully waving goodbye at the airport, we’re talking about enrolling them on a language course abroad, during their summer holidays or any other downtime during the year.
Even as little as a few weeks spent living and learning a language in a country in which it is a native language can turbocharge their learning – and inspire them to invest more into it. This is particularly important for teens who may lose motivation without seeing the real benefit speaking a new language with new friends from around the world can have, for example.
At EF, we offer a variety of immersive language learning courses and programs for kids, teens and young adults, focused on making language learning fun, natural and as effective as possible.