Parents the globe over have bilingualism (or multilingualism) as a goal for their children as they realize the value this advantage provides in our ever-smaller world. Mixing traditional approaches with modern supplemental activities allows enthusiastic parents to encourage their children in learning a second language. Here are my five top tips for success!
1. Start early
Introduce your child to his or her second language as soon as possible. Immediately after birth is not too soon! Don’t be discouraged, though, if you are introducing your child to a bilingual environment at a later age. Any linguistic input you are able to provide your child in a second language will propel him or her on the path to successful communication and contribute to his or her enthusiasm for learning about the world as a larger global community.
2. Encourage regular conversation
Have your child engage in conversation often with a native or proficient non-native speaker. This can be one or both parents, but if you do not speak the language you are targeting, this could be a relative, a good friend or a visitor from abroad for the summer, for example. The more time a child spends in exposure to the language, the more fluent he or she will become.
3. Take advantage of new technologies…
Nothing replaces human interaction, but use the tools at your disposal in today’s fast paced world. Does your son love his Nintendo DS? Then buy him games in Spanish to teach him new vocabulary without him even noticing as he zaps the bad guy. Does your daughter love her iPod? Download hip songs in Italian or German-language videos from the iTunes store or YouTube to watch on the go. DVDs used wisely can teach children new phrases and vocabulary as well as exposing them to cultural information that goes hand-in-hand with their second language.
4. …but don’t forget about books
Books are key to your child’s success in becoming fluent. They provide rich vocabulary input as well as develop literacy. For children just being introduced to a new language, feel free to use dual language texts side by side to encourage your child’s growing confidence. However, do not underestimate your child’s ability to learn quickly and, especially if your child is not reading yet, go for full immersion. Acquire monolingual books in your target language and your child will quickly begin to recognize new words, concepts and grammatical structures.
5. Demonstrate practical benefits
Show your child the practical side of the language. No one wants to learn a skill that isn’t used for anything. Does learning Italian help him to communicate with his Grandmother in Rome on Skype? Does understanding French let her be an email pen pal with the cute exchange student from last summer? Consistently use your second language when participating in a special activity with your child such as skiing or cooking.
Know that bilingualism is a journey and there will be highs and lows, but stick with it and you and your child will reap the long-term benefits. In addition to the obvious linguistic benefits, bilingualism encourages problem-solving skills and contributes to making your child a true world citizen.
What are your experiences with raising bilingual children? Do you have any tips to add to the list?
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