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Raise A Bilingual Child: 5 Strategies to Jump Start Second Language Learning For Your Child

Aug 17, 2007
Remember those language learning labs in junior high school? Those labs with headsets where we were asked to listen and then repeat back to the taped voice of the instructor?

That was absolutely one of the least effective methods used to teach a second language! Not to mention it was at a point in our lives when our brain was no longer capable of acquiring a new language easily. Combine those labs with workbooks and lots of verb conjugation and you have generations of students who came out of a system unable to speak a second language.

Today many of us realize the importance of raising our children to be bilingual. We ourselves have been frustrated in certain situations to not have a handle on any language other than our native English. Whether we were passed over for a job opportunity because we did not speak another language, or we missed a pay increase because we had no bilingual skills or we simply found ourselves wishing we could communicate at an ethnic restaurant all of us have most likely wished for the fluency of another language.

Many of us know that the secret to success is introducing the new language early in life. The most recent research suggests that between the ages of birth and five is the optimum time to begin the second language journey. What most of us do not know, however, is how to bring this language learning into our homes and our daily lives.

Following are five key strategies for jump starting the second language learning of your child:

1) Start the second language learning early. Did you know that the most recent research suggests starting at birth and really emphasizes the first five years of life as the most optimum time to introduce languages to a child? A study out of Texas states that five languages up until the age of five can be learned simultaneously to one child.

I personally encourage playing music CDs during pregnancy and then talking to your baby from the moment of birth in two or more languages if possible. If you and your family speak only language then begin introducing a new language with bilingual music CDs and DVDs.

2) Look for a bilingual language learning series that provides you and your child with the following four components: visual cues (in the form of a DVD, board book or language cards), music fun (in the form of bilingual music CDs and/or DVDs with music incorporated throughout the informal language lessons), beginning reading (in the form of board books, language cards and/or computer software/games) and verbal exchange (in the form of DVDs that prompt occasional responses from your child, friends who speak the target language and/or computer software that allows for verbal acquisition).

All four components are necessary for a well-rounded and fun language program. Always keep in mind that you should not be required to have second language experience or a teaching degree to use these products you choose during your daily routine.

3) Repeat, repeat, repeat!!! Repetition is the key for all the learning that takes place with your child. Think back to how you learned to speak English. Your parents pointed things out to you and said the word for those items again and again in English.

Now, as a parent and a teacher, you can not only provide the English word, but you can also begin to introduce the new language word for that same item. Saying the words in both languages side by side provides a point of reference for the child and allows language acquisition to continue in the native language while learning a new language. This format is referred to as a bilingual format and is one of the best methods to use with young children ages birth through five.

4) Have fun and be patient! Try to never force the new language learning on your child. Gently guide your child along this second language journey.

Your child may not verbalize for months in the new language. Keep in mind that the brain of your child is processing all of this information, wiring it for later language learning.

Show a high level of confidence yourself. Even if you do not speak the target language well you are the best teacher for your child. Surround yourself with great tools to bring the learning to life and then remember that smiling works wonders with kids!

5) Show your child that you respect other cultures and value the ability to speak other languages. Make a point to attend multi-cultural events that bring to life the food, music, dance, arts and people of other cultures, reinforcing to your child that English is not the only language important to their future travels in our global society and that the United States is only a small part of a big and beautiful world!

We are role models for our children. If you show that others are important to you and that you value what they stand for and what they represent, then your child will also show respect for those people and the things important to them.

Giving your child the gift of a second language before elementary school is one of the most wonderful gifts you could ever give him. Making the language learning process easy on you as a busy parent is one of the best things you can do for yourself. The tools are out there, you just need to do a little searching for that perfect fit for you and your familia/family!
About the Author
Beth Butler is the creator of the BOCA BETH Language Learning Series for young children ages birth - ten. Visit http://www.bocabeth.com and learn more about second language learning fun. Call toll free to 1.877.825.2622 or Ms. Butler's cell phone for an interview to 1.813.244.1432.
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