Tips for Teaching Your Child to Speak a Foreign Language

Tips for Teaching Your Child to Speak a Foreign Language Tips for Teaching Your Child to Speak a Foreign Language

Guest Post by Eileen of 52 Weeks of Family Spanish

We all want the best for our kids. We sign them up for dance, girl scouts, football and karate. We hope each of these activities will contribute toward their development, help them become “well rounded” and add happiness to their childhood. Like most parents, I try to toe the line between enriching my kids’ life and leaving them plenty of time to just be kids. When I added learning a second language to this list of activities, it appeared to my friends and family that I was attempting to enter the land of overachieving, overscheduled mom. Not true! As a mom who struggles to simply find everyone’s shoes on a daily basis, I can truly say: learning Spanish with your kids is fun and easy, and the rewards are numerous. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you!

 

If you decide to teach your children a foreign language, here is what you will find:

  1. You will not be embarrassed. The number one reason people don’t learn to speak a second language is fear of appearing foolish. When you are attempting to teach your children something, their well being takes precedence over your own embarrassment. Practice sounding out those foreign vowels with people who will always encourage you…your kids! As you teach them, you will learn. As you practice, they will learn, by listening and example. Everybody wins!
  2. Children are enthusiastic learners! Children, especially small children, revel in using their new language skills. You may feel silly wishing someone, “Buenos Días”, but your preschooler will not! Their natural curiosity and the comfort of practicing within your family will encourage all of you to keep going.
  3. Keep your goals small and your overall learning will be huge! We set out to learn one useful phrase or concept a week. The more knowledge my children gained, the more questions they had, and the more language they gained.
  4. You will be kinder. It is extremely humbling to realize how much work it takes to say the simplest idea in a foreign language. Your empathy for people learning English as a second language will grow tremendously. It is a wonderful lesson for a child to learn.
  5. The more you talk, the more you learn. If you really want to learn to speak a foreign language, make sure your actually are speaking it, not just studying it! This is the way babies learn to talk, it is the way immigrants learn the language of their new homeland and its how you will learn too. No one has ever learned to speak a foreign language by only studying vocabulary lists. You have to speak, listen, read and write to fully master any language.

 

In the end, I wrote a book about my family’s experiences learning to speak Spanish called 52 Weeks of Family Spanish. Within it, I outlined a year’s worth of simple and easy activities that made learning the language reasonable for a busy family. You would be surprised how many opportunities there are for teaching a foreign language! You are already your child’s first teacher. When you add learning another language to your family’s routine you will realize this is just another of the many lessons you are teaching them throughout your busy day. Just as you categorize types of cars to pass the time in traffic, read stories at bedtime, model good manners and consideration for others, and develop observation skills by playing I Spy in a busy doctor’s office, speaking a foreign language is something you can fit into odd moments of your day with ease. My family really bonded over this common learning experience, and my hope is that I have set my children on a path to be multilingual their whole lives.

 

Eileen Mc Aree, the author of 52 Weeks of Family Spanish, is a mother, special education teacher and Spanish language student. She has enjoyed teaching children (including her own!) to develop their language skills and teaching Spanish has been a natural outreach from that experience. She lives in New York State with her family and their dog, Biscuit.

 

 

Comments

  1. CK says

    My first language is not English but living in an environment where even toys speak English, my children are simply not exposed enough to my language to “keep it”. Internet resources, my own efforts etc. go sort of down the drain. Working on it, though. they are like little sponges and it would be great if they understood at least something.

    • Eileen says

      Hi CK, I just realized my first reply didn’t post. It must be so frustrating to see your children ” lose” your language. You are not the only person to mention this to me. As a matter of fact, my Spanish teacher from Argentina struggled with the same problem. Here are some sugesstions other native speakers have mentioned:
      “Ask me in …(Spanish, for example): if your child wants something, they have to ask in your language.
      “Telling Secrets” : You know how when kids are little we sometimes spell out things we don’t want them to hear? And they are desperate to know what we are saying? Well the idea is to start speaking in your native language in front of the kids in a way that makes them curious so they will try to work out what you are saying.
      I hope these ideas help. Good luck! Your kids are so lucky to have a mom with a perfect accent model and complete fluency in a second language. I bet they are learning more than you think :-)

  2. Rebecca B. says

    Great tips for those who want to learn another language with their kids! I majored in German in college and married a native German, so we speak German at home. Our daughter is three and is beginning (thanks to preschool) to speak more English. It’s hard to teach kids to be bilingual. I’m helping my neighbor learn German along with her 4 year old daughter. It’s a fun challenge for me to try and teach German to someone who doesn’t hear it on regular basis like my daughter does. There is a difference in teaching your child with the goal in mind to become bilingual and with having the goal to enrich your child’s language development and culture appreciation. Realizing that the latter is realistic for those who don’t have a native speaking parent, that’s my goal for my neighbors. Good for you in helping your children gain the benefits of being exposed to two languages and another culture.

  3. Becky says

    Eileen, at what age would you consider introducing a new language? My daughter is 16 months and I don’t want to confuse her at this age. When would be a good time to start?

    This is an excellent idea, by the way. I could certainly stand to learn more Spanish in Arkansas! Thank you for the post.

    • Eileen says

      Hi Becky,
      My kids are 10, 8, 5 and 2 and we started this process when the baby was an infant. I have never directly taught her and she knows alot through exposure. I worked as an Special Education teacher for children aged birth through 5 for ten years. So long as your daughter has no serious language delays, go ahead! There are so many children growing up in bilingual homes and they only benefit from the dual language exposure. The limited amount that a non-native speaker would introduce their child to can only help her, not harm her. I hope you have a great time with it. Good luck!

  4. says

    My sons (1.5 and 3) are learning Mandarin. The process has been extraordinary for them AND for me. Thanks for this post. This topic is near and dear to my heart. ~ Marnie

  5. Eileen says

    Hi all, thanks for your comments. My kids are now 10, 8, 5 and 2. We started learning Spanish when the baby was an infant and are still at it. It is amazing (and adorable) how much my two year old knows already. I just started my older two on written Spanish this year. We all love it and it is something we do together. I hope you decide to give it a try!

  6. Anna Church says

    I enjoyed reading your blog about teaching children different languages. I also did this in my home and classroom. Just simple phrases and about other cultures I feel it is important to expose children at a young age. They are like sponges! I am now a retired teacher, grandma and a very busy children’s author and illustrator! Geez and I thought retirement would slow me down, but that did not happen. I am so glad to meet so many caring parents like you. Keep up the great work!

  7. says

    I LOVE this post! I teach Spanish classes, and have a blog with ideas for learning Spanish as a family…can I share this article on my blog? I just recently found the 52 Weeks of Family Spanish book and will be using it as a supplement for one of my “Mommy & Me” classes. I was so excited to read this article from Eileen. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Eileen says

      Wow I am so flattered! That would be great! I am still learning Spanish and teaching my kids so I am going to check out your blog now:-) Thanks!

    • Mary says

      Samantha:

      As an American who speaks 3 languages and has a deep love of culture and travel.. Your sterotyping stinks. No need for slander on this thread.

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