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How to Help Your Child Learn a Second Language

Abbey Smithee By Abbey Smithee Published on August 31, 2016

Helping your child learn another language can be difficult, and it's not always an intuitive learning process. Here are some tips for teaching your little one to read, write, speak and explore a whole new world of speech.

1. Start early 

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According to Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences at the University of Washington, language has a critical period for learning. Babies and children are phonetic sponges until they turn seven, and then there's a systematic decline. This means that there is a best age for a child to learn a second language. Until the age of around seven, your child's passive understanding of language will develop from audible cues, even if there's no actual teaching involved. You can watch Kuhl's complete TEDx talk on the linguistic genius of babies here

2. Create an interactive learning environment  

The ability to read and write a language doesn't come as passively as learning to speak and understand it. Creating an interactive learning environment for your child could help in his or her development with the language. Encourage your child's learning by hanging posters, buying educational learning games for them to play with, and allowing their curiosity to grow with illustrated stories or coloring books.

3. Find your child a language-buddy

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Having someone to practice a language with can encourage your child to want to learn more. Search for local language classes, bilingual school activities, or even a local gathering in your neighborhood. Plan group activities, like book clubs or arts and crafts groups, to gather your child's friends together for a fun learning session. Once you child has a friend who speaks the same language, they won't want to stop chatting.

4. Encourage your child to read (and write)

Books motivate children to communicate and, more importantly, it helps the child learn new words they might not have otherwise encountered. Start by reading aloud to your child from a young age and, as they grow, encourage them to read on their own by buying them books, helping them discover what genres they might be interested in, and even helping them write their own stories.

5. Reinforce their learning

Learning a new language takes persistence, patience, and a lot of reinforcement. Surround your child with daily learning tools like books, toys, and educational television shows. Constantly help their linguistic development by quizzing them on new vocabulary, speaking to them about new topics, and encouraging them to ask questions and talk about their day. 

Abbey Smithee works as an English teacher and in her spare time, volunteers with children with learning disabilities as a tutor and reading assistant.