• Loie Favre

How to get your child to learn a second language

Updated: May 7, 2020

There are many out there who just wish they had learned a different language at a young age when it wasn’t so hard to do. The brains of little ones just suck up new information like sponges. They say that if a child learns a language before the age of 3, they have it the easiest, but it is no less worth it when they get older too! We’ve got to guide them there though — here are some things I did to become bilingual as a child, and what I am doing for my child now.

1. Enroll your child in an immersion/bilingual/language school

This is probably the most obvious way to get your child to pick up a new language. Here the child studies completely in a different language, such as the French Immersion program in Canada, where speaking French is not only encouraged in the class, all subjects are taught in it too. In my case, my partner and I enrolled our daughter in a bilingual daycare where English and German are spoken all the time. While there, I noticed that even though the little German ones, as soon as they could talk, completely understood the English that was being spoken to them. Though they answered back in their mother tongue at first, it builds a solid foundation for further language learning when they continue on to primary school. Finally, there is also the option of after-school language classes (my Greek friends in Canada did this for example).

2. Keep multilingual books at home

If your kid loves to read, then having books in the language you would like them to learn is definitely a good idea. It is great to offer translated books that they already know too: let's say they love Dora the Explorer or Harry Potter, they will already feel a connection and will be less hesitant to pick it up for a read. They might also be so enthralled in this secret language they don't know the meaning of yet and try to decode it using the original book.

Kids love French comic books
The French love their comic books, which they call B.D. for sure, this meaning bande dessinée.

3. Make a country theme day

Though this may seem a bit goofy, getting your kid to have fun while involving a language will make it a lot more appealing for them. For example, you might be keen on them learning Spanish. What a better way for them to also understand the culture behind the words by throwing a fiesta with a piñata, burritos, salsa music etc. Though it may seem stereotypical, it is a good beginning for them to develop a passion for this culture and language. In most big metropolitan cities, there are often cultural events that go on for various countries/cultures. Check the internet to see if anything is taking place near you and bring your child along for an intercultural experience.

Kids love French comic books
French comic books

4. Branch out and make international friends (ideally with kids too!)

There are so many reasons why this is such a good idea. 1) Your kid will meet people who speak said language as their mother tongue. 2) You will make some nice new friends. 3) This family may have just moved from their home country and would be more than thrilled to make friends with some locals! Integration is key here. Discovering a new culture, a new way of life through another family is really amazing. There is so much knowledge and information to share, it can get quite passionate. The kids can play together and you see that soon enough your child will be piping out new words in no time.

5. Post COVID-19: Travel! Plan a family trip.

Now with coronavirus, most of us are scratching our heads as to when we can travel again, and we may never travel like we used to ever again! But, if the tide does change in the coming months, then travel is an excellent way for your kids to pick up a new language. This is probably the most expensive of all the options, but it is well worth it if you are serious about your child's linguistic development. In some cases, you can be lucky; the country/region in question may not be too far away. If you are from Canada or the US, travel to Quebec for French or Mexico for Spanish. If you live in Europe, well you are just set; there are heaps of places to go. Not only will your kids seriously profit from this experience, you will too! Most importantly, remember to relax, don't stress out and take it all in. The best trips are often those where you don't try to hit all the tourist attractions, but rather where you get lost in the streets and talk to some locals.

Do you know of any other ways to get your kids to speak another language? Will you try any of my ideas and do you think they will work?