How Can I Help My Child To Become Bilingual?

by Clare Innes

There are not that many children who manage to learn a language at school and who eventually become fluent, no matter how long they studied it. There are, however, many kids who were able to learn a new language on their own within a couple of years, simply by reading, watching TV and mixing with speakers of that language.

Here, for you as a parent, are just a few tips that you can utilise in order to help your child to learn a new language:

1. Pack up and go!

2. Reading and watching TV

3. Find ways to make bilingual friends

4. Lead by example

5. Have fun and make it a challenge

6. Foreign exchange visits

7. Take your vacations in an area that speaks your childs target language

8. Employ a foreign Nanny or Au Pair

9. Buy CD-ROMs, books, videos, on-line courses, etc

10. Private lessons

Packing up and leaving

Ok, this may be a bit extreme but it is certainly THE singularly most effective way for your child to become fluent in a new language. Kids up to their mid-teens just soak up new languages like sponges. The initial transition period may be somewhat daunting, but they soon make new friends and their language skills just rocket. When a child is surrounded by foreign speaking people, at school for example, you can expect your child to be conversationally bilingual within 3 months or so (although grammar etc, will take rather longer).

Read and watch TV

It is exactly what it says. Look for foreign TV channels and encourage your children to watch them. You could make it a bit of a quest, limiting normal TV to 2 hours a day, but no limit on the foreign stuff.

If you live in a cosmopolitan area, try the local newsagency for reading material that will suit your childs iinterests but it is in a foreign language. Now try and push them a little to learn and then to show off their new language skills and knowledge at school.

Teach your child about different countries and encourage mixing friends

Unless you live in Siberia, you probably have people of many different nationalities living around you. Encourage your kids to befriend children bilingual in their target language, or who don’t speak your mother tongue well. You’ll be amazed at just how quickly children begin to communicate with one another.

If you go to church or another religious community every week, why not go to a foreign speaking one to learn a new language? Try once a month, then go more often. You will probably be invited to take part to some kind of community activity afterwards, an excellent opportunity to practice your own skills, include your child and make new friends.

Show them how it’s done!

Get your child off to a flying start by learning a new language yourself and include your child in your home studies. Let them know that learning other languages is a great gift in life, and give them all the encouragement possible. This will help them much more than just a couple of school lessons a week.

Keep it fun and challenging

How about an early morning wake up call in a foreign language?! This may sound silly, but you’ll be surprised how many words and phrases can be picked up from listening to another country’s music.

Try this for an idea…make a deal with your kids; as an incentive to learn and practice, say that you will pay for any foreign books and movies (available in most large towns or cities).

Exchange students

Foreign exchanges are worth their weight in gold if you get the chance. Your child will have the opportunity to ‘swap lives’ with a student from another country. They stay with each others’ families for a number of weeks or months, soaking up knowledge, language and pronunciation skills. Students who have had the opportunity say that this was one of the most memorable times of their lives.

Vacation abroad

Once your child is learning a language, try to pick holiday destinations that speak this language. Give your child a few months notice that they will be your guide and that the family will rely on them for help whilst away. Don’t put too much pressure on though, just gentle motivation.

Employ a foreign Housekeeper or Nanny

A great idea is to hire a Housekeeper or Au Pair that will be around your child during the day. Ask her not to communicate too much in English and to always speak to your child in her own mother tongue.

Buy CD-ROMs, videos, books, on-line courses, etc.

There are a huge amount of books, cassettes, CD-ROMs, videos, and now on-line childrens language courses too, for language learning nowadays. If you can, buy several and use them jointly. A new CD-ROM can spark interest and curiosity from a child who would otherwise be bored by traditional long-term methods.

Hire a private tutor

In most areas, it isn’t too expensive to hire a private language tutor. It is much more effective for your child to receive one-to-one tuition than to try and learn in a classroom filled with other chldren. The way to achieve optimum results, would be to combine this with any of the other methods mentioned earlier.

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