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How To Introduce Your Second Language To Your Toddler

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How you can introduce your second language to your toddler

If you are a bilingual parent raising a monolingual child you have probably thought about when and how you can introduce your second language. While there is lots of advice to say you should start from birth, it doesn’t mean you can’t start later. Many parents decide to put off speaking with their children in their second language for a variety of reasons. But you can still introduce a new language once your baby becomes a toddler, or even an older child.

There is no doubt that the earlier you introduce a new language to your child, the easier it will be for them to pick it up and become fluent. However, even if your child has started talking already in their first language, there is still a variety of ways to introduce your second language so they can become bilingual.

Introduce the target language as soon as possible

Once you have made the decision to introduce your second language, start talking in the language to your child right away. Toddlers are usually only starting to speak, so a new language will come quite naturally. You could actually switch to your second language exclusively immediately if you are comfortable with it. Although there might be the initial shock, toddlers are quite adaptable and may welcome the change.

If your toddler has started talking already and you are not comfortable with a complete switch, there are other ways you can introduce your second language slowly if that is what you prefer.

Start with the fun stuff

To break the ice start singing songs to your toddler in your second language. Young children love to sing, and are usually able to pick up new words and phrases before they even start speaking sentences. Introduce nursery rhymes and fun songs in an informal way and make it fun.

Read books and play games together, introducing words and phrases along the way. Teach actions like clap hands, jump up and down, run, skip, and hop. Play around together having fun introducing new words slowly and repeating them over and over.

Use screen time to your advantage allowing your toddler to watch programs in the target language. Watching together  is more effective so you can speak about what is happening.

Use a context to speak your second language

One of the methods of raising a bilingual child, is using a situation or a context to speak with your child. You can choose a time of the day, for example every evening before bed for an hour or two playing and doing activities together. Or perhaps a place in the house which is your special language corner.

Try the “Talking Twice” approach

To avoid the initial shock of a new language, you could start “talking twice”. For example say the sentence first in your child’s first language, and then repeat the same sentence in the language you are trying to teach. Starting off like this will slowly introduce new words and phrases to your toddler, and you can encourage them to repeat what you say. Eventually, start to use only the target language at times and see how your child reacts. Start using their first language less and less over time until you are using only the target language.

Find others who speak your native language

There may be mothers groups or play groups in your area where they speak your target language. By surrounding your child with other people who also speak the language, it will create an immersion effect. Hearing the language from other people other than yourself, may encourage your toddler to start using it.

Be Consistent

All children react differently. While some may welcome the change, some toddlers may resist. If you have been speaking in one language since birth and then all of a sudden change, it may be a bit of a shock to some. However, if you are consistent, your child should eventually start to use your second language. Don’t give up.

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3 Comments

  1. Irina

    Hi, thanks for the article. I have a question, maybe you can help me, sorry if this is not quite the topic. I have 2 kids who we raise bilingual. My partner and I have both different native languages. My partner’s (english) is used in the community, mine (russian) I speak always at home with the kids since their birth. My both kids did start to talk pretty late, my girl (5,5) was always speaking always russian to me, not perfect but she does it. But my youngest boy who is now 3,5 years old speaks only english and this not very well yet. He understands everything I tell him in russian, but has really a barrier to talk back to me in this language. Except of a couple separate words he doesn’t say anything. English is obviously his first language. I insist often in talking back to me in russian, I let him repeat after me the answer, what he does with some difficulties. Would you maybe have for me some tip how I could improve it? I just started going to a russian playgroup and hope this will help. Also I was thinking to introduce sometime a third language (my second language, not native) to my kids. But I’m worried they would get too confused as they don’t even speak the 2 other languages properly. Should I rather wait with it? Thank you and sorry for a long message 🙂

    • Hi Irina,
      Thank you for your message. As you speak the minority language, it will always be the one needing more exposure.
      However, it seems that because your little boy knows that you understand English, he doesn’t feel the “need” to speak Russian to you.
      Therefore, you have to find a way to create that need. I think that the playgroup is a great idea, having other people around that speak Russian should give him more confidence to speak it, not just with you but with others. The more exposure to Russian he has the better.
      This post could be helpful for you, it explains reasons, and has some suggestions to help encourage your little one to talk back in your language:
      https://bilingualkidspot.com/2016/12/13/why-child-wont-speak-minority-language-tips/
      Please feel free to join our private discussion group also: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bilingualkidspot/ , we have many Russian parents in the group, perhaps you can find some in your area 🙂

  2. Sophia Papagalou

    Hallo! I’m not sure what concerns me is relevant since neither me nor my husband are bilingual.We are both Greek and since I am a fluent speaker of English, I am trying to teach our 19-month-old son.Our son started talking greek quite early (when he was 11 months) and is picking the english words I repeat very fast (he already uses mummy,daddy,boy,ball,hello,goodbye). I am interested in any tips,advice,resources,scientific data you could suggest. Thank you and congratulations for the wonderful site!

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