If you knew you could do one activity with your child that would enhance their cognitive skills, give them an advantage in school and increase their chances of professional success, wouldn’t you do it? That’s what it means to introduce your child to a second language before the age of six.
Research shows that the brains of young children are hard-wired to learn up to three languages with ease, but as they get older it gets exponentially harder each year to learn new languages. Anyone who's tried to learn a foreign language as an adult knows how challenging it is to remember vocabulary, learn new grammar rules and imitate native accents. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers are not yet “neurally committed” to English, meaning they still have the flexibility to learn new languages without it interfering with their English language acquisition, and will have much better accents if they start young.
Furthermore, learning a second language is a great workout for the frontal lobes of the brain. This is the same part of the brain that handles memory, multi-tasking and other skills associated with intelligence. So even a little language learning goes a long way in terms of cognitive benefits and getting a head start in school. Here are some activities that you can bring into your home to start your children on their foreign language learning adventure, and are all affordable, easy and fun:
- Expose your children to CDs, DVDs and games in the language you want them to learn. Once they learn a few words, reinforce them frequently (”where is le ballon?” or “can you bring la leche to the table?”).
- Build foreign language learning into their routine. Set a specific day, or time of day, for language learning so your children get regular exposure. Some families speak the language at breakfast, right before bed or, for the little ones, at bath time.
- Read books that contain foreign language words or play with language flash cards together.
- Make up games that help your child remember the words they are learning. For example, you can play “I spy” and insert foreign language words (“I spy un balloon rouge”) or, see how many objects at the dinner table you can name in the language they are learning.
- Find places on the map where language is spoken and talk to them about it (Italy is where Italian is spoken; China is where Chinese is spoken, etc.). Buy map placemats and discuss the featured countries/languages at mealtime.
- Expose your kids to children who are native speakers of other languages and encourage them to use their vocabulary to communicate with their peers.
- Finally, exclaim with delight when your child uses her or his second language, and make sure your kids hear you telling friends and family about their foreign language learning. Your pride will be their best motivator!
Julia Pimsleur Levine is a mom who grew up bilingual and was looking for fun ways to introduce her young son to the French language. Uniquely qualified as a filmmaker, language teacher and mother and having grown up in the language teaching business, Julia created the Little Pim series of DVDs, CDs, flashcards, books and iPhone/iPad apps that make language learning fun and easy for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and their parents.