Monday, August 30, 2010

Teaching your kids a second language

I speak Chinese as a second language. It's actually a funny story how I started learning Chinese. Both my parents are Chinese but we never really spoke that language much at home. Sure, the parentals will speak it to each other or to their friends, but somehow it was always English to us kids. After moving to Asia, I started watching TV programs that were in the Chinese language. Yes! Believe it or not, I started learning Chinese by watching television and reading the English subtitles. Of course, a more refined understanding and learning of the language began more formally when I was enrolled in the public school system. As tough as learning a second language was for me, it has become extremely beneficial. Because of my being in the public school and having to learn Mandarin Chinese as a mandatory subject, my level of reading, writing, and conversing has become more so of a native level. I also learnt how to speak a different dialect by listening in to the conversations my parents have with their friends and again from TV programs and movies. As I have my own child now, I do find myself struggling with speaking solely Chinese to him. However, from personal experience, I do know it's never too late to start teaching and conversing with your child in a different language.  

Straight from, here's how to get your little linguist to begin learning a second language at home:

Start now. Two- and 3-year-olds are not only increasing their vocabularies, they're starting to recognize the speech patterns they've been hearing since birth. The earlier you introduce a second language, the easier it will be for your child to pick up its unique sounds. The ability to hear different phonetic pronunciations is sharpest before age 3, and we lose the capacity to hear and produce certain sounds if we aren't exposed to them early on, according to Fran├žois Thibaut, director of the Language Workshop for Children, in New York City. So just hearing a television show, listening to music, or learning a few words in a second language will give your child essential tools for appreciating it now and learning to speak it later.

•Create a casual learning environment. The best way for a child to learn to understand a new language is for him to hear people speaking it fluently, says Thibaut. If he's exposed to conversations, he'll begin to pick up the sounds and the natural accent. Choose a language that is spoken in your neighborhood, on a television show your child can watch regularly, or one that is offered in classes or playgroups in your area. "If you have a bilingual babysitter, encourage her to speak her native language to your child exclusively," says Rhodes. Two- and 3-year-olds love to mimic what they hear, and soon they'll begin to understand the meanings of short words and phrases.

•Teach a word at a time. If you don't want to do formal lessons, you can introduce bilingual basics by pointing out to your child that objects can have two names -- one in each language. "When my 2-year-old son, Constantinos, sees a spider, he'll say 'spider' to me in English and then say it in Greek to my husband," says Cassandra Attard, of Nottingham, New Hampshire. "He knows they mean the same thing." As your child learns new words, tell him what they're called in a second language too.

•Have reasonable expectations. Of course, a child won't learn to speak another language fluently from hearing words, watching videos, or singing songs. But simply being exposed to a language will help her understand phrases when she hears them. So even though you probably won't be having a French conversation with your child very soon, if you say "bonne nuit" every night at bedtime, she'll figure out what you mean.
Personally, I think another fun way to get your child interested in learning a different language and not thinking that's the "boring parental language" is to immerse your child in that language's culture. For example, as a child, I loved reading about Chinese folk tales and legends. As I was reading the Chinese storybooks about them, I was exposed to the written language of Chinese idioms and proverbs. I was also fortunate to have a tutor who told me fascinating stories about how each proverb or idiom came to me. It was intriguing and I enjoyed learning. It also made learning a difficult language so much more interesting and it certainly captivated my attention. I also enjoyed learning about the different festivals and the stories and histories behind them. Share all the cultual details with your child. It will bring the language to life and will encourage a deeper interest in that particular language. If you can afford it or have the chance to, perhaps rewarding your child with a visit to that certain country after he/she has accomplished certain feats in attaining a higher level in that language skill will be a fun and educational incentive for your child and family as a whole.
Sometimes, having a foreign-exchanged student from that country will do wonders for your child as well. Your child have to learn how to converse with that student and it will be a great experience for both kids. If financially or for some other reason, that is not feasible, have no fear...there are a ton of other things you can do with your child. Purchase or borrow from the library, storybooks and movies in that language. Often times, it is quite easy to find Disney movies in different languages. That might be a fun way for your family to have that second language be a part of your lifestyle! Supplement their learning with music of that language as well. Music is often times a strong factor in teaching children. Do take advantage of that!!! Nowadays, with the internet being so widely used and available, it is easy to find such media on youtube or simply by googling it.
I do believe it is important for the child to not just learn how to converse. Their conversation skills will be strengthened when they learn how to read and write in that language as well. Create flashcards and teach your child the written word in addition to speaking it at home. That is often the harder part of learning a new language. Create a reward chart or system to encourage them to do so!!!
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, do share them with us! What do you do with your kids that help them learn a different language! I would love to get more great ideas!!!!

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