The world is a big place — but it’s getting smaller all the time. With the advent of the internet age, different cultures are only as far away as our desktop.
As our children grow up and become part of the world’s workforce, understanding those other cultures — and other languages — will be even more critical.
If you speak more than one language (or studied another in school) and/or have traveled abroad, you may already appreciate the increased world and cultural understanding that comes with learning a language, and want that for your child, too. Before your child is even ready for school, you can take steps to introduce one — or more — languages to your child.
How soon is too soon to introduce a second language to your child? Many would say never! More than a few kids grow up in multi-lingual homes — hearing, learning and speaking two or more languages during formative language acquisition years. The result is multi-lingual adults, not language-confused adults. And the languages learned don’t have to be similar in origin. German and Chinese at the same time? Sure!
The spoken word
The best way to learn any language is to be immersed in it, to hear it all the time. If you are multi-lingual, you could agree with your partner that you will speak only French to your child while your partner will speak only English. Very quickly your child will be learning and speaking both languages.
If you don’t speak a second language, but a close family member does — such as a grandparent — enlist his or her help. Spend more time with that person and ask that relative to speak the other language with your child.
Only know one language? You can still introduce a language using other media. Having foreign language books and DVDs around the house isn’t quite the same as constant speaking, but it’s a good way to start.
If you are still more serious about your child learning a second language, you can introduce online/computer-based programs to your child’s routine, such as Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages.
Better yet, introduce such a program as part of your one-on-one time with your child; it’s more fun learning a language together.
An increasing number of studies suggest overall cognitive benefits of learning a language earlier than later. Kids who speak and/or study more than one language tend to be ahead of peers in other academic subjects, scoring higher on standardized tests, among other evaluations. While learning a foreign language doesn’t guarantee academic success, it can support and encourage it.
If you aren’t bilingual, introducing a second language to your child can feel daunting. Your child doesn’t need to be fluent by age 5, however — it’s an introduction, a foundation for further learning. Introducing the language, along with the idea of other languages and cultures is just the first, very manageable step.