The age of learning foreign languages to babies and toddlers does not begin as late as you would imagine. Language lessons are as popular as playing games in nurseries and social groups nowadays. Kids are very smart and fast at grasping new information (or knowledge). From birth to approximately until the age of six, a child’s brain works in a very different way than adults. The mind of a child is like a sponge, soaking up endless drops of knowledge. Kids absorb everything around them natural and constantly.
I like the following passage by Maria Montessori, the author of “The Absorbent Mind”.
“…if we compare our ability as adults to that of the child, it would require us sixty years of hard work to achieve what a child has achieved in these first three years.”
Language education must start before the age of three. A language is normally used effectively after 4 years of age. The more a child is exposed to a foreign language before the age of 3 the easier it gets for them to learn and speak the language. Therefore, starting from birth, you should try to expose your baby to foreign languages, including listening to music, talking with your baby, regardless of them understanding. For instance, we speak two languages in our home, Turkish and English, and both languages are as important as each other. They are heavily exposed to both languages and it is essential that they are able to speak, listen, read and write in a professional manner.
How Should Adults Help Children In The Process Of Learning A Foreign Language?
First thing to note is that you should act differently according to the age of the child in foreign language education. For example, talking to a baby in a foreign language or listening to music will be effective. For children who are able to say few words and understand the basics of the foreign language you would want them to continue learning a new word each day. You could encourage your child to watch suitable television programs (e.g. cartoons, animations, and kid friendly movies). Regular exposure means they will eventually memorise and learn new words and sentences. Get hold of educational resources, including apps, CD’s and books. These can be used where ever you are, at home, in the car, when you’re out and about, just keep repeating the words and sentences with your child. There are large number of online resources providing free services, so make use of them. You could also browse through YouTube channels dedicated for teaching specific languages.
If you ever needed a child minder (or a carer) how about choosing one that speaks the foreign language of interest – you will be amazed how much of a difference that makes.
Children aged 2 to 3 love to imitate their voices, therefore within a short time you’ll notice them repeating the words in the foreign language they are exposed to. When your child learns a new vocabulary, translate the word into the foreign language, and where possible find a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same (in both languages). This will enhance the body (or pool) of vocabulary in both languages, which can be extremely useful later in life.
Don’t forget to start with simple things, such as alphabets, animals, colours, objects and numbers. For instance, write a word in English (e.g. using an app) and then listen to the translation of the word in the foreign language of interest several times, then get your child to listen to it on few occasions. Repeat this process during the day, so that your child memorises the word.
Try to use all your senses in the process of teaching a new word. This will allow the word to be learned in a short period of time, but more importantly it will be stored in your child’s long term memory (i.e. permanent). Repetition is of great importance here, and do not forget to repeat again and again after a new vocabulary is learnt. Then get your child to repeat the word several times.
Make a habit of playing word games. For example, put the animal names (in the form of stickers) you have already taught in the main areas of the room, e.g., on the fridge. Then say the animal in the foreign language and ask your child to bring it. Learning while playing games is the best style of learning.
Socialization is very important in terms of learning a foreign language. Create an environment where your child can share what they have learnt with other families in the process of learning the language. Remember, talking in a social setting increases your children's motivation and self-confidence.
Do not forget to be patient. Patience can be bitter but its fruit is sweet. Managing expectations is also important, so make sure it is reasonable, i.e., don’t expect your child to learn the language within a few weeks or months. Yes, it’s true that children are fast learners, but patience is crucial. Your child will not start speaking a foreign language by learning handful of words, watching television and playing games. This is just the beginning. But if they are exposed to a foreign language at an early age, they learn to speak the language with an accent just like fluent speakers, as if your child was born and raised in the country of the learnt language.
As an adult (or parent) if you do not know the foreign language you want to teach your child, it does not mean that you cannot teach them the language. Absolutely not. With the suggestions above there is nothing you need to know about the language you want to teach. You can start practicing this approach to teach a foreign language immediately. Over time, you will see that you are getting the desired results.