Creative Child

Now We’re Talking!

by Erin J. Bernard on Jan 20th, 2015

The ability to connect with new people. A knack for categorizing and problem-solving. Good listening skills.

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These are just a few of the many benefits children who speak more than one language may enjoy as adults. Today, more than 20 percent of school-aged children speak a language other than English at home, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, and that number is only expected to increase.

The best part of all? You can help your child develop second-language skills, even if you don’t speak a foreign language yourself. Try these 5 activities with your kids:

Consider an immersion classroom or bilingual daycare:

Private language-immersion schools enable children to develop high proficiency in a foreign language well before the teenage years, and many American public school districts now also offer immersion programs. If you can’t shoulder the cost of private school and your district doesn’t offer immersion, consider enrolling your young child in a non-English-speaking daycare. Most cities have a wealth of foreign-language daycares catering to immigrant families, and can immerse your child from babyhood.

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Cultivate a foreign-language community:

Seek out opportunities for your family to socialize with other families whose children are learning the same language. Building such a community creates fun opportunities for your child to practice, to feel proud of his or her burgeoning abilities and to connect directly with the usefulness of the foreign language. Kids are highly motivated to learn the language of play, according to the linguistlist.org, and the presence of playmates who speak a foreign tongue can be a great incentive.

Seek out foreign-language media:

This is one instance in which more media exposure may actually be better for your children. Supplement your child’s study of a foreign language by adding foreign language book titles and movies to their home library, or by subscribing to foreign-language television channels. Offer your child extra screen time when they’re watching foreign-language programming and watch foreign-language movies together with the subtitles on so the whole family can follow along.

Join the fun:

Although researchers disagree on whether it is useful for a parent with limited foreign language abilities to attempt to speak that language with children, some studies indicate that high parental proficiency may be less important than confidence.

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Join your child in simple activities such as singing songs and reciting rhymes, and don’t worry too much about passing on an imperfect accent to your child. Accents morph naturally over childhood and are often ultimately picked up from other children anyway.

Start early:

American schools often wait until high school to begin training kids in foreign languages, but research indicates that we ought to begin far, far sooner. The best time to for a child to begin learning a foreign language may well be when he or she begins learning the native language: infancy. Children are optimally primed for foreign-language learning in two other windows: between 2 and 7 years and 10 to 13 years. Wait till adolescence, and the task gets much harder.

For more information on bilingual education, check out these resources:

National Association for Bilingual Education

http://www.nabe.org

National Center for Education Statistics

http://nces.ed.gov

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/BilingualChildren/

Linguistlist.org

http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/biling.cfm#twolangs

Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Portland, Oregon. Before becoming a writer, Erin worked as a nanny and an ESL classroom teacher. She taught English at a Montessori school in Mexico and then ran an after-school language program in South Korea. Erin is the editor of the parenting guide, “Instructions Not Included: A Pediatrician’s Prescription for Raising the Best Kids on the Block,” written by Irwin H. Berkowitz, MD.

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