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Here are a couple of fun facts for you all. I am actively seeking ways for my daughter to learn Spanish. I am not a native Spanish speaker myself. You all might wonder why in the world would I even bother teaching my daughter Spanish. You might wonder how is this even possible. I can answer both of those questions for you and why it is important to me that she is learning another language.
What Are the Benefits of Your Child Learning Another Language?
It’s important to recognize how crucial it is to obtain the ability to communicate with others in our world. The world is a global economy and we must be competitive to keep up if we want to get ahead in our careers. I always use this example when someone asks what skills can set them apart from other candidates. If you have a resume, what will look more impressive during your interview? Would taking a Calculus class in high school look more impressive or being able to speak multiple languages? Unless you are an actuary or engineer, companies will look to hire that person with multiple languages. It is a very practical skill to possess.
Also, there are many cognitive benefits as well to knowing more than one language. Studies have shown evidence that being able to speak another language can potentially help delay the onset of dementia. This is due to the fact that switching between languages requires effective training between executive functions such as paying attention, listening, inhibitions, and monitoring. With that said, I believe it will serve my daughter greatly to be able to speak another language.
Now, you are wondering how am I able to accomplish this while not being a native speaker. Well let’s jump into the 7 tips that I suggest to get started with your child learning another language.
How Do I Teach My Child Another Language?
My first tip I can suggest is to utilize the power of television. I understand if there are concerns about screen time but whenever you do allow your child TV time, I suggest putting it in another language. Netflix has a host of different languages for TV shows. I often see languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Italian, German, and even Russian offered through Netflix. I am sure there are more but the TV shows I have my daughter watch offer those languages. Other streaming services also offer this type of service as well as Disney+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Of course, the types of shows I have my daughter watch are age appropriate. I allow her to watch Word Party, Octonauts, PJ Masks, and many different Disney movies. Those shows have humor appropriate for a 2-year-old and she finds them to be very entertaining. Outside of those shows, I sometimes put the news on channels such as Telemundo. The reason I do this is to allow my child to see the formation of the words coming from someone’s mouth. From the time your child is born, they possess the ability to make all 150 sounds of any language in the world. They begin to lose this ability around the time they become a year old. By allowing my daughter to see real live humans make the sounds, she can potentially still have the ability to make sounds that a native Spanish speaker can make.
The next tip I will suggest to you all is to provide books for your child in the target language that you would like them to learn. Books are a great way to teach your child another language. It will teach them cultural themes so they can appreciate another culture. This is important for them to develop empathy for diversity and others who are raised differently than them.
Books can also be adapted from your native language as well. Any children’s book authors with a large following such as Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss have their books adapted from English. This is great if you are really wanting to follow along with your child and understand what is being communicated in the book. There are also audio recordings that can be used with these books if you have trouble reading them.
If there is a place or library that hosts a story time in your intended language, that is another opportunity for your child. Here in the Columbus metro area, Columbus Spanish Place offers story time for children. This is a great way to expose your child to literature and hear from a native speaker of your targeted language. If there isn’t a story time set up, maybe try and work with a local high school or college that will offer volunteer hours to students who are either native speakers or taking the AP level of a certain language. The possibilities are endless for story time.
A third suggestion I have for you all wanting to teach your child another language is to find other adults who speak it. Ask them to communicate to your child in the target language you’d like them to learn. These people can be an adult or another child. If you don’t happen to know someone, there are other ways to seek these people out. This can be done through apps and websites such as iTalki where you hire someone to speak Korean to your child. You might want to place an ad for a babysitter or nanny that speaks Polish or Afrikaans and can communicate with them strictly in that language. It is VERY important to screen these people so they are not being inappropriate with your child but it is still something to consider if you are short on friends that are bilingual.
Music is a powerful tool that we can utilize to help our children learn any task. From clean up songs to learning the alphabet, music is used in ways that help us in our daily lives. This also extends to learning another language. I find many opportunities to put on music with Spanish words for my daughter. Whether we are driving in the car or we have a dance party, this is a fun way to incorporate Spanish into her life. I find that she loves to sing these songs to us and perform what she has learned. There are playlists on Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, and Apple Music that are age appropriate for children learning any language.
I have to be honest in saying that this is one tip I utilize the least but it is still something I suggest. There are many toys at our disposal that we can use to help our child learn another language. If you go to the toy store or Walmart, there might not be a large selection of these items here in the United States (also depends on where you live). However, there is the power of the internet at the tip of your fingertips. You can go online and order something for your child on Amazon or Ebay that speaks in the language you would like them to learn. Plus, it is a fun way for them to be able to learn since our children love playing with toys (or the boxes the toys come in).
For the past few years, I have been learning Spanish (I have the goal of learning 4 languages). Learning Spanish is going to help me communicate with my daughter in that particular language. I can help support her and her learning (even if I have an accent that isn’t a native speakers). The methods I have chosen to use are Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and and taking local classes. I will go into detail of each method.
Duolingo is an app that allows a user to learn aspects of a language (even if you wanted to learn Klingnon). You will not become fluent through Duolingo but it is a great method for learning the basics. The program accomplishes this through providing a game experience for users. You will practice translating predetermined sentences through reading, listening, writing, and speaking. The French and Spanish language also have stories that can be utilized where you will be asked comprehension questions. Through those activities, you will be able to compete with others around the world through a leaderboard which makes it competitive for all involved. Additionally, Duolingo uses podcasts on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify to help one pick up listening comprehension. All of these services are free.
Rosetta Stone is a software program that has been around for a long time. This software program uses only the target language unlike Duolingo. A user will have to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking exercises to get through the course. Additionally, Rosetta Stone offers extended learning opportunities for its users. They will provide a phrasebook for the most common expressions, stories from native speakers, and an audio companion to help practice listening comprehension. Rosetta Stone is not a free software program. However, they often run some sort of special offer to knock down the price for anyone interested. I wouldn’t say that a person will become fluent through Rosetta Stone but it is a great way to immerse yourself in a language.
Currently, I am taking classes through Columbus Spanish Place. These classes are as close to 100% in Spanish (our teacher will offer a brief explanation in English if needed). Each class runs 2 hours a week for 9 weeks. You take a placement test to determine your level of understanding of Spanish prior to starting. After the initial test, you can sign up for a class. Once class starts, your teacher will start with teaching you grammar, allow you opportunities to speak, practice reading, learn about different cultures, and provide meaningful feedback to help with learning Spanish. In between classes, we are assigned exercises from a textbook, writing exercises about our daily life, and reading a short novel in Spanish. If you don’t live in Columbus, they do offer virtual classes for those interested in learning. I love that I have this option and it has really helped my language learning.
My last suggestion I have for you all is the #1 tip anyone will give you. Immersing yourself and your child in the language. If you are able to travel, that would be the most helpful way to teach them another language. However, I am aware that this isn’t always practical. Finding classes for yourself and your child will be the next best thing.
Spanish Immersion in Mexico
I can detail my experience with this method. I took my wife and daughter to Playa Del Carmen to take an immersion class as well as being among the locals. We found a condo in town and elected to forgo a resort. I found this to be incredibly helpful because it prevented me from having to speak to others in English. All of us took a private class through Taan Spanish School where our teacher made it very practical for all of us. We went to the supermarket, restaurants, a carnival, and the beach. We played an Uno style game with past tense verbs and had to use those verbs in a sentence for extra practice. There was a dice game that had pictures on the die and we had to tell a story in Spanish with the pictures. Our teacher also taught us about the different regional cultures of Mexico as well. If I can give a suggestion of a Spanish school in Mexico, this would be my first choice.
Local Spanish Immersion
Outside of our travels, we have our daughter taking a Spanish immersion class herself. She takes this class at a place called Spanish for Ninos. Her teacher Nella makes this a wonderful experience for all children involved. She groups the children by age and she has them participate in activities that are age appropriate. Her teacher provides songs, puppets, books, and other creative ways to really engage the children. She hardly uses any English but she is very patient. She gives the children a chance to figure out what she is communicating through modeling. Recently, she started to utilize Zoom to provide class for those people who live outside of Columbus. If there is a place I can recommend for a little one, this is it right here.
There is a myth that I hear perpetuated based on fear here in the United States. When I tell someone that my daughter is learning another language, I get some sort of response that she “needs to learn English first.” This could not be farthest from the truth. The United States is one of the few countries that we primarily promote being monolingual. We do not begin teaching another language until it is a subject in high school and that isn’t the best approach to learning any language. You have to view learning a language as a lifestyle choice versus a subject matter. We will then understand that ANYONE can become bilingual.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, learning another language will NOT cause or worsen speech problems. It is a myth perpetuated by the culture we live in here in the US. If you go to Europe, Asia, and even Canada, you will find many bilingual people who will communicate just fine in multiple languages.
I provided an outline of why I am teaching my daughter another language and how I am accomplishing that task. I believe it will open up many doors for her career wise and help keep her mentally sharp. On top of that, it is a fun way to connect with others in our world. There are a host of other ways to help your child. I chose to highlight these areas because they seem to be the most practical ways for me to help her learn Spanish.
Are any of you bilingual? If not, are you actively teaching your child another language? Do you have any parenting tips on supporting children learning another language? Please share in the comments what languages you know and any suggestions you may have to help others learn a new language.
Cameron is the creator of Supportive Fathers. He created Supportive Fathers as a way to help explore topics other dads encounter in everyday life. Cameron is very passionate about being a father to 2 year old daughter as well as being the husband possible to his wife. To read more of his story, please click here.