Hundreds of thousands of people who’ve immigrated to the US have felt implicit and explicit pressure to switch from using their native tongue(s) to fit the wide use of English. In due process, generations of families have lost their original languages, resulting in monolingualism. While many adults struggle to learn new languages as their brains are accustomed to the sound and structure of English, it is well documented that children are quicker to absorb new languages.
Try learning a new language with your child! The benefits of English-speaking parents learning a new language with their child are innumerable. Language engages different parts of the brain, and is said to even out bring out different sides in people. We can learn more about ourselves and the world around us through other languages.
Early childhood is the best time to introduce another language, as children build essential language and vocabulary skills. It can also be a good time for adult parents and caregivers to embrace a new language. Immersion is a fundamental way to learn a second language. You and your child can make this a fun family project!
First, identify a language that you and your child are interested in learning together! This can come from family history: maybe your family tree boasts an array of mother languages that haven’t been spoken in generations. Honoring your ancestors and heritage while learning the language with your child is a perfect full circle.
Another option is to consider your neighborhood. Maybe the area where you live has a high secondary language rate. Maybe it’s French if you’re in the New Orleans area, or Spanish in the Los Angeles area. Depending on your location, English may not even be the dominant language.
Once you’ve chosen your language, the fun part begins! There are many ways to implement the new language into the daily lives of you and your child. Find the best activities for your family to immerse in the language.
The alphabet, early fundamental vocabulary, and simple sentence-building are the first steps in comprehending and speaking a new language. Luckily, most languages have free resources online, such as alphabet songs on YouTube. Listening to how each letter in the alphabet is properly pronounced will enhance your accent as well as your child’s, no matter their age.
For slightly older children, you can reinforce key vocabulary words by placing sticky notes on common household items with the name in English and your chosen language. For instance, if you are learning Italian, every morning you can get breakfast / colazione from your refrigerator / frigo and put it on a plate / piatto. Repetition helps retain basic vocabulary words, making practice important. You may even consider making this activity part of your daily family routine.
Another easy way to add doses of a new language into your routine is to consume media in your new language. Look up famous singers, movies, TV and radio stations, daily talk shows, online magazines, etc. Switch your phone and tablet into the language too. Surrounding yourself with native words and sounds allows you to pick up nuances and pronunciations you might otherwise miss through traditional language learning practices. You also have the benefit of hearing how words are pronounced by native speakers. This part can be different, especially for adults! While children aren’t entirely used to or settled on the way English sounds, adult brains have a stronger association between a letter of the Western alphabet and its English pronunciation.
Pick an English movie that you and your child know very well, one you can nearly recite word-for-word. Watch the movie in your chosen language, if such an option is available. As you don’t have to decipher the plot, you and your child can soak up the vocabulary and most importantly, the pronunciations. Listen to the words; pick out words you recognize and ones you aren’t familiar with. Talk to your child about how the movie seems similar and different.
And finally: read together! Sit down and read a book in the language you are learning or in a bilingual format. Read aloud together and practice speaking words and sentences. This is a good comprehension exercise for you and your child.
Language is a lengthy process to master; it can take years to even reach proficiency. That’s okay! Keep things ongoing—it means slow and steady progress. Learning with your child is beneficial for them and for you. Instead of learning alone, you have a built-in buddy to practice with. Good luck!