Have you ever heard someone say that our world is getting smaller? Unless that person was Kyrie Irving, who may or may not still think the world is flat, what they likely mean by that is that access to other people and cultures is improving as we become more connected.
For children to learn anything, it helps if learning is also fun. However, when it comes to learning a second language, it pays to examine how children learn their first language and simply mimic it.
Think about how your kids learned English if that’s their native language. Did you sit your one-year-old or two-year-old down to read a textbook? Probably not. What you probably did was put them into an environment where they heard that language being spoken, as in normal everyday life.
Of course, we don’t usually have to go out of our way to do this. Language acquisition happens naturally — though studying the process does provide some clues as to how children learn languages and how the earlier you begin, the easier it will be.
The Natural Way to Learn a Language
Parents.com recommends creating a casual learning environment. If your kids are young enough ― three or under ― simply listening to a TV show or music in a foreign language will do the trick. At that age, just being exposed to a second language is enough to begin picking it up.
If one of the parents is bilingual, talking to them in that language is another simple option that works well. The key is frequent exposure. Don’t worry about this exposure including two languages simultaneously. Kids at that age learn very quickly, so there shouldn’t be any speech development delays in either language.
However, homeschooling your children comes with its own set of challenges, and this includes learning a foreign language.
Homeschooling and Language Acquisition
According to That Krazy Korean, the first step is choosing the second language, and there are two things to consider: the benefit of learning a particular language and the interest your child has in learning it. When it comes to what second language would provide the most benefits, there’s no right or wrong answer. Spanish, Mandarin, and even ASL (American Sign Language) are all excellent options.
It goes without saying that if your child is more interested in learning, he or she will be more invested in it. It should also be mentioned that learning a language also includes learning about culture and history, and that’s probably what will generate the most interest.
The next consideration is choosing a course, and the options vary quite a bit. From in-person classes to correspondence courses, and from one-on-one instruction to group instruction, there’s probably a situation best suited for your child. Don’t discount digital courses either, such as Rosetta Stone or similar alternatives, many of which are free.
While homeschooling multiple childrensimultaneously can be a challenge, when it comes to language learning, it will likely provide more opportunities than challenges. Role-playing is instrumental in language acquisition, even if it’s just between teacher and student, but having a few different kids learning together means creating real-world scenarios for practicing that language.
The more you can incorporate culture into language learning, the more fun and relevant it becomes. FluentU considers language and culture as “flip sides of the same coin,” as having one means naturally having the other. They recommend incorporating six techniques into your language-learning environment:
- Use authentic materials. It helps to transform the classroom into a natural setting, as in one that a native speaker would encounter daily. This can include things like flyers, street signs, advertisements, podcasts, and videos.
- Try comparing cultures. Make learning more interesting by comparing and contrasting different customs, traditions, and even greetings. While we shake hands in the U.S., bowing is common in Japan. The unfamiliarity of different customs and role-playing through them should help with remembering words in that language.
- Use live native speakers. Every classroom enjoys visitors. Visitors who can talk about their language and culture will lend some real-world aspects to it, and learning about slang from a native speaker is always fun.
- Include food in the curriculum. Food is a big part of any culture. Different holidays and celebrations involve different and special foods being served. You can even combine a cooking class with your language instruction for a more unique and fun approach.
- Teach them songs. Think about the alphabet song and how much easier it is for children to remember the alphabet when singing it. Songs also incorporate culture and are more fun. When learning is fun, it’s also easier.
- Use online resources. Time for Kids is a great choice. They have sections where kids can learn about different countries and fun facts. It helps them see the bigger picture and lends perspective to what they’re learning.
When it comes to learning anything, and particularly in a homeschool environment, creating a schedule is instrumental. More important is making sure your child sticks to that schedule.
Benefits of Learning a Second Language
There are numerous benefits of children learning a second language: enhanced reading ability, increased creativity, improved listening skills, and better overall cognitive performance. There are also the benefits that come later in life.
As the world is becoming smaller and more connected, there’s an increasing need for people who can speak multiple languages. For young adults, being able to speak more than one language is the type of skill that looks great on college applications and job resumes.
The benefits of speaking more than one language, however, extend beyond childhood and include areas of life that aren’t career-related. Adults who alternate between speaking two languages experience reduced incidences of stroke and less cognitive decline as they age.
There’s also evidence that bilingualism may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by more than four years. There are travel benefits that come with speaking another language. There are more social opportunities, and your kids will be able to raise bilingual children once they have kids.
One thing to keep in mind is that, as children, we aren’t aware of many of these benefits, or at least we don’t recognize them as benefits. We also don’t realize how much we would value being fluent in more than one language until we’re adults. Unfortunately, by that point, learning a new language is like pulling teeth ― the pain aspect of it. Integrating a second language in your curriculum can open new doors and experiences for your student.
Brooke Faulkner is a mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She loves teaching and learning from her kids. you can see more of her writing on twitter, @faulknercreek