Second Languages for Young Children
According to language experts, six-month-old babies babble using 70 different sounds that make up all of the languages of the world.
Children are not preprogrammed with the language(s) of their parents; they learn the language of their environments. For example, the child of parents who consistently speak multiple languages in everyday conversations will naturally speak both languages.
Learning a second language is not as challenging for a young child as you may think. Teaching a one-year-old the word “red” and the Spanish version, “rojo,” is similar to teaching the words “stone” and “rock”. There is nothing confusing about this for a young child.
The key to teaching your child a second language is to immerse him or her in the language. Your child’s teacher probably does this throughout the day by labeling and referencing items and actions in the classroom in different languages. You can work with your child’s teacher by referencing these labels and incorporating the language into your child’s play at home. With your participation, the immersion is complete.
Remember, there are many forms of communication. Introducing young children to second languages such as Spanish, French and sign language encourages brain development in areas that would typically fall dormant. (Sign language can also demonstrate an infant’s listening vocabulary and fine motor development.)
Second languages celebrate cultural diversity and help to create an understanding of the written word. A second language can open doors and unleash curiosities of the world.
Whether your child is an infant or a preschooler, immersing him or her in a second language is the key to success. If the language is new to you as well, label your surroundings so the words are readily available. Following are some age-appropriate activities to help you incorporate a second language into your child’s daily routine.
Infant to One Year
- Sign as you say words.
- Sign in one word syllables (e.g., more, mom, dad, ball).
- Gently move your child’s hands to make a sign.
- Play music from around the world.
First Steps (12 to 18 months)
- Add to signing vocabulary, use signs with verbal cues.
- Say both the English word and the second language word for an object.
- Practice the second language while playing ball (e.g., As you roll the ball to your child say, “Here comes the red ball, pelota roja.”)
- Use the second language words interchangeably in your own speech.
- Name body parts, animals and colors in the second language.
Toddler and Get Set (18 to 36 months)
- Repeat everyday words in all languages.
- Link words together.
- Prompt your child to attempt new words.
- While playing a game, such as “Memory,” recite words in both languages.
- Begin to use common words in the second language without repeating in your native tongue.
- Listen to music in other languages.
Preschool to Pre-Kindergarten (36 months +)
- Use your everyday experiences for language opportunities (e.g., sign the food item you want your child to find at the grocery store).
- Sing songs in other languages.
- If your family has two native languages in your household, speak one language at home and the other outside of the home to practice proper language use.
- Watch your child’s favorite movie in another language. Many DVDs now offer language choices.
- Visit cultural fairs, food markets and restaurants of other cultures.
At The Goddard School, we offer Spanish and American Sign Language to our children. We feel that it is very important for children to learn a second language at an early age. For more information about our program please click here or call 480-633-3196 to learn more about our program.