Children learning a new language at an early age
Buenos Dias! Bonjour! Would you like your child to speak another language? You can achieve fluency in French and knowledge of Spanish or Italian at any age. But how does a child learn a new language without spending hours in a boring classroom? What are the strategies for early language learning success?
Here we explore how children begin a language journey to become confident speakers, and what other benefits they pick up along the way.
How early can children start learning a new language?
Experts say that the younger the student, the easier it is to learn a new language. But is there a limit to how soon you can start instructing a child? Is there an ideal age for children to begin a second or even third language?
Parents may be concerned that by introducing a different language into the mix, youngsters will struggle to pick up their native tongue. In fact, before the early 1990s, parents and educators were reluctant to introduce different languages until the child had mastered their first. But the most recent research demonstrates that kids can start learning a new language in early childhood without any disadvantages – and that learning before the age of 10 is more likely to result in fluency.
In addition, experts say, language-learning after the age of 18 becomes more difficult.
Of course, it is possible to learn a new language when you’re an adult, and your success largely depends on the strategies and tools you use. But if you want your child to have a head start, begin sooner rather than later. It won’t confuse your child and it may even boost their potential in other areas.
Benefits of children learning languages from an early age
Research shows that not only do children acquire a new language more easily when they are younger, but bilingualism or multilingualism actually boosts young brains in additional ways. Kids learning multiple languages are better at problem solving, more creative, learn to read earlier, and score higher on curriculum tests.
A fluency in different languages increases young people’s cultural awareness. They learn to understand people better from diverse cultures and countries. It opens young minds to how huge the world is – and the opportunity that exists for travel and cultural exchange.
Children that master a different language early on have plenty of time to hone their skills and use them professionally in future careers. The job market is increasingly global and opportunities go to people who can communicate effectively with others across the world.
In fact, one of the biggest benefits of early language acquisition is near-native fluency and pronunciation. Kids that start a language early are more likely to chat like they’ve lived in that country their whole lives. Kids’ sensitive ears make it simpler to mimic the tiny tonal differences that adults often miss.
And the accomplishment of taking on a different language – and succeeding – is a massive confidence boost for any child. With greater self-belief, they are more likely to pursue other goals.
Tips on teaching a new language to young children
Not surprisingly, young children don’t have much success learning languages with only grammar books and vocabulary tests in class. The best way to learn a language is to use it, especially outside a classroom situation – immersion in the language means more success.
And of course, learning a new language must be fun!
Kids have naturally low attention spans. A child-friendly learning program involves doing, not just sitting. Kids can use their eyes, ears, hands, and imaginations. Think games and songs, dances, craft activities, and online resources.
Once the novelty of an activity wears off it becomes a chore and not a challenge. An interesting online learning program helps introduce essential variety into the task of learning a language. Or you can choose to learn with songs on a Monday, TV programmes on a Saturday, etc.
And never forget that part of the experience involves rest and time away from language games and activities. If your child is tired and unmotivated, let them chill out and enjoy other things.
Playing games in your target language is ideal for acquiring new words. Hide and seek, for example, involves the numbers, and jigsaw puzzles use colours, shapes, and pictures. Or call out action words – Hop! Jump! Spin! – in the target language for the child to do.
Cartoons, TV and Books all Count
One of the most crucial elements of language learning at an early age is exposure, not just teaching. Cartoons and TV shows provide an effortless way of associating words with actions. Watch these programmes in a different language – with or without subtitles, depending on the age of the child – and it helps children learn while having fun.
You don’t need specialised educational books, just read bedtime stories in a new language and children will become immersed without realising.
Include the Language Every Day
You don’t need anything special, simply name the things you see in the shop, or talk about colours in the target language, or the weather. This is a useful way to learn as young children link objects with their surroundings and use words more naturally.
Create a Learning Environment
No fancy furniture needed. Just a shelf with some age-appropriate books and a comfortable beanbag, a small play area with boxes containing toys which are labelled in different languages, worksheets, and colouring pens and pencils.
Language learning tools
There are as many apps for teaching kids a new language as there are adult-focused ones. Apps are ideal for older kids as they give control over their own learning journey while providing a safe and accessible space for discovering a new language.
Toddlers and younger children also benefit from language apps. Find a colourful, lively, and fun character to guide your little one through Spanish, French, or Mandarin, and they’ll enjoy coming back for “lessons”. Duolingo is a top choice for older children, while The Very Hungry Caterpillar First Words app has a pop-up book in different languages for toddlers, and ChineseSkill is a one-stop-shop for Chinese learning.
Apps often come with a more complete package of online learning activities. For a structured teaching journey, sign up for a child-centric course of language activities and online lessons. You can check progress and maintain momentum with regular check-ins and goals.
Don’t stop there – use other tools to complement the linguistic discovery.
For example, LingoPen is a specially-designed tool for students and young people learning languages. The hand-held pen scans text to translate words instantly. It includes a text-to-speech function to boost language retention and ease of use. It works for teens and youngsters learning independently and is also the perfect tool for a parent who may be struggling to pronounce an unfamiliar word in their toddler’s bedtime story.
Whichever tools you choose and whether you sing in Spanish or doodle in Dutch, the most important thing to remember is to keep the experience fun. A positive attitude helps children learn a new language easily and quickly.