You’ve probably heard that it’s very easy for a child to learn and become fluent in a second language. There is a lot of truth in that. It sure looks easy if you compare a child learning a language to an adult learning a language.
If you’ve studied languages as an adult, especially in a traditional sense you might have done countless classes, tests and maybe even travelled to another country for immersion and still didn’t become fluent. Children on the other hand, especially if they start pretty young, can become fluent much easier. Although children may have the capacity to learn languages quicker, we can’t take for granted how the language is delivered. There can be difficulties in teaching children a second language especially if the parents aren’t bilingual themselves. That’s why there are great programs out there, committed to teaching children a second language even though they haven’t mastered their first.
How Do Kids Learn a Second Language?
It’s amazing to think about the fact that children are typically just born with the ability to learn languages (actually, we all are, no matter our age). They weren’t born speaking or knowing any native language. They came into the world a blank slate for languages. They are only born with the ability to make 40 sounds and from that, they’re able to learn and speak any language.
With that said, children learn a second language the same way they learn their first, through constant communication in the target language.
From when they are babies, children pick up what becomes their native language through mimicking tone, words, and inflection.
It’s best for children to learn languages by directly communicating with someone else who is speaking the native language such as a language tutor, parent, babysitter, friend, nanny, or any REAL interaction. Children didn’t begin to learn their first language through reading and writing. As a matter of fact, children began speaking their native language long before they could read or write. That just goes to show how important dialogue is in language learning.
What’s interesting is that children are better able to discern the sounds in the language that non-native speakers have issues hearing. That fact ties in with the fact that children typically learn languages in an auditory way (as do adults, but they’re typically more afraid of this method, even though it is more effective).
When it comes to actually teaching a child a second language, as mentioned before, the method matters. According to a study done, if a child is not exposed to the language enough, as is often the case in a traditional classroom with a focus on reading, writing and just listening to the teacher without TRUE interaction (we call this, “living in the language”), then they actually learn more slowly than adults (because adults have the motivation and can focus on a goal better).
What is critical to know about how children learn is the fact that they learn implicitly and we as adults tend to learn explicitly (even though implicitly is better for everyone when it comes to language learning, but adults resist this).
Learning implicitly means that the children learn without thinking about learning much, reflecting on it or putting in that much effort. On the other hand, adults really study languages and put quite a bit of effort to become fluent (even if studying is not the most effective way to learn). It’s also important to note that children, especially older children, do use explicit learning techniques but they typically aren’t as developed as adults.
Since children aren’t sitting down and cramming languages to learn them, they need a lot of contact hours with the material. They don’t typically get that from traditional classes.
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How to Help Your Kids Learn a Second Language
Besides enrolling them in a conversational class, there are a couple of things you can do to help them along their language learning journey.
- Provide a positive environment for language learning. A positive environment is one that is more encouraging than critical. Encourage the child to speak in their second language and facilitate conversations with others.
- Expose them to kid-friendly media that exposes them to foreign languages. For those of us young enough to remember “Dora the Explorer”, you’ll have to admit you picked up many Spanish words effortlessly. Did you become fluent from Dora? No, but you did learn important vocabulary and you had a positive image about languages.
- Learn the language with them – Learning the language with your child can help you practice with them and make their language learning journey so much better. There are tons of benefits from learning a foreign language anyway, so it’s a win-win situation regardless. You don’t have to be fluent in the language to help them either.
- Introduce them to Interactive Games – There are many games you can find on the internet that will facilitate your children’s language learning. Children generally love playing games so they won’t even notice that they are learning and it won’t feel like a chore.
Learning a language provides many benefits for children. If you decide to get your child to learn a second language, consider TruFluency Kids, super small online classes that focus on learning Spanish the native way. Our methods are tried, proven and kid-friendly. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.