Immersing your children in another language and culture is beneficial to their social and cognitive development. But to many parents, the job of teaching a child a second language feels out-of-reach, not to mention costly.
We made the commitment to raise our son in a multicultural home when our son at the tender age of 1. Growing comfortable with another language is a vital skill that we didn't want him to miss out on, so we learned how to nurture that skillset early on. Today, Lucas takes an Italian class once a week. At home, he speaks Italian with dad, who is fluent. During bath time or playtime, we play Italian music to keep his ear attuned to the language. We also have Italian children’s literature to read to Lucas.
But that raises an important question: If you aren't multilingual, can you introduce a new language at home? The answer is yes! Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Start early...earlier than you think!
As with most behavior that you want your children to absorb most effectively, you need to start introducing a foreign language as soon as possible. Experts agree that true language development and vocabulary building occur between ages 2 and 3.
2. Create a comfortable learning environment.
It would be ideal if you could enroll your children in pre-school foreign language classes. These classes are typically music based and use games to introduce foreign words and concepts. If foreign language class isn't an option for your little one, focus on what you can do at home. Be casual and depending on your comfort level, use TV or videos, as there are plenty of options to help nurture multilingualism. You can also find nursery rhymes and songs in other languages to help reinforce language skills.
3. Enlist the help of technology, bien sur!
Use as much technology as can help in introducing your child to foreign languages. There are multiple videos and music on Youtube that are free to watch. There are multiple apps that can be accessed on tablets and smartphones that are in foreign languages that also help introduce the sights and sounds of foreign languages.
4. Whenever possible, introduce new words.
Simple tricks like saying “Buon Giorno” instead of “Good Morning”, or “Bonne Nuit” instead of “Good Night” , can help children form mental bridges between words they already know and words they are trying to learn in new languages. Try and teach them words in both languages if you know them.
5. For parents who speak a second language, speak it often.
If you are a foreign language speaker yourself, you need to speak in front of your child as often as you can. This goes with starting your child early, as the more often a child hears foreign words, the faster they will make the language connections for better understanding.
6. Faced with a choice? Think bilingual!
Many parents have to use daycare, have a babysitter, or have a nanny at home. If you have the choice during the interview process, it is important to try and hire someone who can speak a foreign language, or to enroll your child in a daycare where they speak a foreign language. When you are buying children’s books, find some in the language you want your child to learn as well. If you are buying music, also pick up some foreign music.
7. Have reasonable expectations.
It is important to remember to not pressure your child. Set reasonable expectations for both yourself and for your children. This can be a fun activity for children and parents to share, and should be nurtured as such. By setting achievable measuring points, you will enhance the learning process and help your children internalize the language lessons.
Learning and being introduced to new languages and cultures is a great way to cultivate open-mindedness in our children. A small effort from parents can go a long way in helping this process for our children.
Nicole Fonovich (with husband Damir) is the co-creator of "Luca Lashes," an eBook and app series that turns “fear of firsts” into fun. The series is aimed at kids ages 0–4 and is available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and soon, Chinese. The first app, Luca Lashes: The Brown Eyed Boy with the Magic Eyelashes, is free on iTunes, and the other apps can be downloaded for $1.99 at all major marketplaces. "Luca Lashes" eBooks can be purchased for $2.99 everywhere eBooks are sold, and also on the Luca Lashes website.Nicole and Damir backgrounds in teaching, writing and publishing. Together, they have 17 years of experience in the education field, in both teaching and administration. They live in the Chicago area.