Observing the process in which infants and young children acquire language is fascinating. The human brain forms more neural connections in the first four years of life than in any other developmental stage and these connections are crucial for determining linguistic and cognitive capacity. The ease at which children are able to immerse themselves into a new linguistic context is one of the reasons why it is strongly recommended to encourage them to learn a second language as early as possible.
We live in a globalized world, which means that knowledge of a second or third language (with English being one of them) has gone from being a “plus” to becoming a “must” in today’s job market. This leads to parents being increasingly concerned about introducing their children to new languages. It may take some extra effort at first, but there are a few simple strategies parents can incorporate in their day-to-day lives to expose their children to new languages and help grant them the opportunity to acquire full fluency in the future.
Firstly, parents should expose their kids to the new language as early as possible.
If the parents already speak this language, they should introduce simple phrases, expressions, and words that can easily be learned together with their mother tongue. A study by Jurgen M. Meisel on Second Language Acquisition in
Early Childhood shows that the simultaneous acquisition of two (or more) languages better allows children to differentiate the linguistic systems of the languages they are exposed to early on, giving them a higher chance of developing native competence in both languages. When languages are learned at the same time, the native language is less likely to dominate the new language.
As children get older, parents can start to integrate other resources and more interactive methods into the learning process.
For example, “touch-and-feel” or “choose your own adventure” story books which stimulate the senses to allow for deeper interaction with the language.
Digital media can also bring a world of benefits, but parents must make sure to respect screen-time limits and make sure the contents are of high-quality and of educational value.
Educational apps designed specifically for early learners are a great tool since they combine learning with play, making the process as effortless and natural as possible. Such apps can improve motivation for learning the language, and some even have technology that allows for a personalized learning experience.
When planning family leisure time, parents can try to choose activities that will expose the child to the new language.
For example, cinemas, theatres, theme parks and museums tend to offer content in different languages. Take advantage of holidays to travel to places where the whole family can be immersed in the new language. Parents can encourage their kids to speak with locals, like ordering a meal at a restaurant or telling the taxi driver where they are going.
Finally, explaining all the possible benefits of learning a foreign language to the child can also be a motivating factor once they are old enough to understand.
From boosting performance in other academic areas to providing better career and learning opportunities in the future, knowledge of these advantages will help them understand the impact these skills will have on their future.
There are countless ways to spark a child’s interest in learning a new language. The key is to make sure the process is natural and fun for the child so they do not associate it as a chore but as entertainment. Parents should put in time and effort, but should also leverage technology and online resources to facilitate the learning process.