There were many instances when a parent or an adult who works with children would ask me: “How does your child speak four languages? Does he get confused? Is it difficult to teach another language? How do you do it?”
It takes dedication and some research to help your child learn another language, especially if you come from a mono-linguistic background. When you develop a sense of comfort with the second language or if you’re hiring someone to teach your child the language, it is also important for you to at very least know the basic vocabulary of the language you’d like your child to learn.
Teaching your child a second language may seem difficult at first, but remember this: the sooner you begin teaching him, the easier it is for him to obtain a stronger vocabulary, as well as proper grammar. Teaching a child during the infant and toddler years makes it easier for him to obtain all of those new words and information. As you must have heard from caregivers, your mom-friends, pediatricians, and educators: Their brain is like a sponge. It just absorbs everything.
There are many benefits to teaching a child a second language — or even a third, fourth, or fifth language. The benefits of teaching your child to become bilingual can help him with his still-developing frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making and, most importantly, executive functioning. Learning languages is also in the same area of the brain as learning math. There is no evidence that learning two or more languages can help your child become better in math, but it helps to know that the neurons of both areas are connected.
According to Medical Daily, children who learn more than one language develop a vocabulary that can enhance their perspective of the world. When looking at the vocabulary of languages, you can find words in each that do not exist in other languages. For example, the Portuguese word “saudade,” which would be poorly translated into English as “nostalgia.” However, the word does not simply mean nostalgia, it means the feeling of longing. It means having this intense feeling of happiness for a memory, yet you are sad and begin to tear up just a little bit, because that moment has come and passed — that moment has now become a memory. It makes you feel happy to have lived in that moment, but it also makes you feel a bit sad that it is over. It’s in the past now. This is just one example of how expanding your child’s vocabulary with additional languages can help him navigate his emotions and hopefully help him express himself and describe his feelings better.
There are many ways in which you can teach your child another language, and here are some great tips:
Read books together. You can visit your local library or bookstore for books that are in two languages.
Watch educational videos on the internet that are musicals. Sometimes, when we sing songs with our children, it helps all of us remember words better. They can visually see the object, say the word, and sing it out.
Attend cultural events. Oftentimes in New York City there are free cultural events by county and region.
Language programs for families. There are some public programs as well as private programs to enroll your child for further learning.
Attend museums or tours that are both in English and another language. Doing so helps you listen to another person speak the language, especially if that language is their native language. When visiting a museum, you can read a map in the language you are learning as well as your native language.
Enlist outside help. Ask your child’s teacher or day care if any of the staff or teachers speak the language you’re trying to teach your child, and if they’d be willing to communicate with your child in that language.
Consistency in teaching your child another language is essential, but that does not mean you must strictly speak one language at a time. You can also mix words from one language and use the words from each language to develop a single sentence. This helps your child differentiate the two languages, and it’s a great way to exercise his brain. Another exercise you can try is by asking your child a question in one language and then having him answer in the other language.
Simultaneous learning is when you’re teaching a child two languages, which many parents who are bilingual tend to do as they teach their children both English and their native language. Other parents are teaching their child one language by two different people.
Your child is a sequential learner if you’re teaching him how to communicate well in one language before you move on to the other language. This can sometimes cause pressure on your child, causing him to feel frustrated, especially if the second language is the one usually spoken in his community. At only the age of 3, my son enjoys mixing Spanish, English, and Portuguese with his predominantly Latina peers.
The benefits of learning more than one language according to neuro-linguists are:
• Better memory.
• Better problem solvers, in general.
• Better sense of self-expression.
• Better readers and writers.
• Creative artists and problem solvers.
• Ability to multitask successfully.
• Better executive functioning skills, which are controlled by the frontal-cortex, later in life.
Teaching your child another language shouldn’t feel like a burden; it should be exciting. Have fun with it, and engage in some of the suggested activities. Be creative and make the most out of this exciting, new learning experience.
Amela Dzurlic is a single mother of a multilingual toddler who has an obsession with trains and learning how things work. She is currently a freelance writer, women’s mental health advocate, and studies developmental psychology with a focus on child development and education.
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