Many people whose mother-tongue is English consider it unnecessary to learn another language, yet foreign language lessons in school are compulsory for many children. The following article offers practical ideas on how parents can help their children learn a foreign language.
Adults’ Own Experiences of Learning a Foreign Language
Many parents, carers and/or grandparents may not have had a particularly successful or enjoyable time when they were learning a foreign language at school. However, it is very important, when helping children or grandchildren, to set aside any negative attitudes.
Modern language teaching methods in schools have changed significantly, even within the last five to ten years, and it is unhelpful to project one’s own, possibly unproductive, experiences onto the next generation. Therefore, try to adopt a positive attitude and to reinforce with pre-teenage children that learning a foreign language is important and useful and, above all, can be really good fun!
Advantages of learning a foreign language at a young age
It is important to remember that, when you acquire your own language, you have been constantly surrounded by it from birth. This has two implications for parents/grandparents.
Firstly, parents may not wish to wait until their child starts school – all research states that it is never too early to learn a new language. Ideally, this early learning needs to be informal, fun and linked to very young children’s interests. For example, singing songs and playing games to help develop language comprehension skills is a natural way of learning language.
Secondly, children learning another language at school will only receive, at most, a few hours foreign language teaching a week. Therefore, the more they can hear and speak at home the greater progress they will make. After all, nothing succeeds like success!
If your children are old enough to understand the concepts, stress with them that they are living in a world where global communication, international travel, cultural understanding and the global economy are, and will remain, central aspects of everyone’s lives. Talk with them about how much fun it would be to communicate with someone from another country in that person’s language.
5 Tips on learning a foreign language
Share these 5 easy ways to learn a new language with children:
- In common with most aspects of life, a young child will respond well if they see that their parent(s) are themselves demonstrating a commitment to an activity. Therefore, parents could have a go at learning some aspects of a foreign language themselves. As an example, parents and child could learn French together. This does not have to be a particularly onerous task.
- Take an interest in what your children are learning at school and possibly learn together – many younger children will love it if they make better progress than their parents and if they can show off their knowledge and skills. For example, a good way of helping children to understand a concept is to get them to teach something to parents/grandparents or the family as a whole.
- If they ask, test them on their learning homework or practise speaking with them.
- A fun idea is to put labels in the foreign language around the house, for example on the doors of different rooms, in the children’s bedrooms and on everyday objects. The whole family can then use the words as they go about their daily routines and set the challenge of who can remember the most.
- Another way of getting children accustomed to hearing and using the new language is to greet each other each day in the foreign language and then to progress to some simple questions and answers, for example about the weather or how one is. Eventually, the family could aim to have a simple conversation, possibly around the table at meal times.
Fun and Effective Resources to Support Children Learning a Foreign Language
There are language learning Apps and DVD’s which encourage listening and speaking skills e.g. song and story tapes. Listening is often the most difficult skill to master and so the more fun practice that children can receive the better progress will be made.
If there is satellite TV at home, look out for programmes that are appropriate to the children’s age.
There are many extremely attractive and effective language learning websites which offer games, quizzes, puzzles, interactive activities and songs all of which stimulate and motivate.
Finally, consider buying books in the foreign language that are written for the age of your child.
These tips will help children learn a foreign language at home and make it a rewarding and fun experience!