Much like learning to swim or ski, it’s a heck of a lot easier to learn a second language when you’re young. But did you know the other benefits to growing up bilingual? “Learning a second language has lifelong benefits from cognitive to social to health,” says Caryn Antonini, founder of Early Lingo, a foreign language learning system for children ages 0 to 9. It also may open up their world view without getting on a plane, says Antonini: “They are more likely to be empathetic and open-minded about other people and cultures as they understand that there are different perspectives—language, actions and thoughts, which differ from their own.” Here are 5 ways to help them get started:
Put Them In a Class With Native Speakers
“Whether it’s a music class or one with crafts, this is a really effective way to get children learning quickly as they are learning through play and surrounded by children who are speaking in the target language,” says Antonini.
This may include apps, music, television and cartoons. “Many language learners will tell you that they learned another language by immersing themselves in the sounds of the language. For a child, it not only makes it more fun, but they need to hear the rhythms, sounds and patterns of the language in their everyday environment, or their brains will start to discard them.” Early Lingo has iOS apps (both a curriculum app and game), as well as videos, for Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin and German.
Encourage Them To Practice Often
Practice makes perfect, particularly when learning a new language. “We can all memorize the language, but until we begin to speak it and make mistakes and correct ourselves, that is when the learning truly begins,” says Antonini.
Make Dinner Time Bilingual Time
Mastering a second language with the rest of their schoolwork can be tough for kids, but designating a certain time to speak in that language can make it feel like play. “Whether it’s during bath time or dinner or in the car, you make a space for the language and it becomes fun as opposed to a chore,” says Antonini.
Take Advantage of Library Story Times
Many local libraries have a Spanish (or other second language) story time. Suggests Antonini: “If one isn’t already offered, start one for your community!”