The unique developmental window where kids can learn a second language faster and easier!
It is never too early (or too late!) to start learning a new language. Research shows us that young children gain countless benefits from the introduction of a second language. According to an article from leadwithlangauges.org, learning another language can impact cognitive development, foster curiosity and boost problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
My husband and I are bilingual- speaking both English and Spanish. His family comes from the Dominican Republic. A 6 months old, Warren is not talking yet and of course, does not know the difference between the two languages or when we are speaking one versus the other. We are making a conscious effort to use both language regularly so that Warren can also be bilingual. In addition to the many cognitive and developmental benefits this has, it is also important to us that he can communicate with his family members who do not speak English and maintain that cultural connection to the DR through language.
We read to him regularly in both languages and one of his favorite Spanish versions is Eres Mi Mama. Contrary to popular belief, switching between the two languages will not confuse Warren. In fact, according to NBC News. “It is remarkable that babies being raised bilingual — by simply speaking to them in two languages — can learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one. On average, monolingual and bilingual babies start talking around age 1 and can say about 50 words by 18 months.” So don’t worry about confusing your little one!
What if your young learner is already speaking English, is it too late to start introducing a second language?
According to spanishworkchopdforchidlren.com, “studies show that the best time to learn a new language is between brith and age 7, in what is referred as ‘the window of opportunity.’” This article talks about the research behind the unique “window of opportunity,” the benefits of children learning a second language and some tips for how to do it.
We know it is good for them; we know this is the time to do it. So the question then is, how can we teach them a new language, especially if we don’t speak that language ourselves?
We’ve got it wrong in our education system in United States. In most cases, we start introducing a second language in middle school, around 7th grade. We are missing this great window of opportunity. Most second language programs are filled with memorization, grammar practice and inauthentic situations. What we’ve learned though, is that the best way to learn a second language is to be surrounded by it as much as possible- not memorize a bunch of words and grammatical rules. Leave the dictionaries and workbooks behind and create some learning experiences for your little one.
One of the best ways to do this is to introduce elements of immersion into your child’s routine. Here are a few strategies to do this at home:
1)Read or Listen to a book in the new language
2)Put a cartoon on in the target language
3) Listen to music in the target language
4) When you say and English word, follow up with the second language translation. “Milk.” “Leche.”
There are also a lot of great resources online that have DIY activities to support learning a new language at home. You can even get started today with this fun storytime read aloud of a translated classic by P.D. Eastman, Eres Mi Mama? This fun story is a great way to introduce animal vocabulary in both languages because the illustrations serve as a translator. If you want to follow up the storytime with a fun vocabulary memory game, click here to see an instructional video. If you would prefer to receive written instructions and a free PDF download of the materials used in the video, click the button below!
Remember, this is a unique window of opportunity for your little one to learn a second language quickly and easily in comparison to waiting for our formal education system to catch up. I’d love to engage in conversations about this with people who are already doing it or who would like to start. Leave a comment or subscribe below!