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How to Teach Your Child a Language (Without Actually Teaching)

Many parents have this idea that they need to actually teach their child a second language, when actually this is not the case. Children naturally acquire languages quickly and easily simply by being exposed to them over time. So if you are trying to teach your child a second language, stop. Follow our suggestions below.

Teaching is not always the best way

As long as a child has enough exposure to the language, learning should happen naturally. Whether it be one language or multiple languages, it is the same. In fact children can learn multiple languages from birth without actually being formally “taught”.

The way in which you interact with your child does however, play an important role in the language learning process.

For example, children need human interaction, they cannot simply listen to the radio or the TV to learn a language. So it should be yourself, or someone else interacting with your child in the target language.

Whether your little one will learn a language from a parent, or from an outside source such as a friend, a nanny, tutor, or a playgroup, the process is the same.

As children get older you may want to introduce some language lessons to help with grammar. However for young children there is no need for them. They are too young to follow formal lessons, and will most likely get bored. Like with anything else, young children learn best through play. Exposure and interaction are better than lessons.

So instead of trying to teach your kids your language, think about the following instead:

The Power of Conversation

Conversation is vital to the language learning process. In other words, if you speak the target language, then talk to your kids in that language. Simply by speaking to your child on a regular basis on various topics, they will naturally acquire the language you are speaking. Whether your child can speak or not, they will start to understand quite quickly. The more you speak with your child, the more vocabulary they will be exposed to.

If you don’t speak the target language, find someone who does. This could be relative, a friend, a babysitter, an Aupair or nanny, or a teacher. It could also be a mothers group or play group.

The Importance of Books and Reading Aloud

Reading books aloud to your children every day is vital for language exposure. Making it part of your daily routine ensures that your children hear different types of vocabulary on a regular basis. Selecting diverse books on different subjects, and concentrating on those which your child enjoys, will ensure your child stays interested.

If you don’t have books in the target language, there are plenty of online options, and many of them are free. Check out our post on Free online books for kids which have a variety of books in various languages. Some of these have audio options too which are great for pronunciation.

Simple Play for Easy Learning

Simply playing with your children can help them learn the language you are speaking. Narrating things you are doing such as “Now the train will go through the tunnel” or “Ok, now it is time for the baby to go to bed”. Talking while you play will ensure your child is constantly hearing the language.

Sing nursery rhymes or other songs together on a regular basis. Music is a great way to give your child exposure to your language while having fun.

There doesn’t need to be formal teaching, children learn much more when they play. The more simple it is, the easier it is, and they won’t even realise they are learning.

Playing Pretend to Motivate your Child

Puppets and pretend play is a great way to imitate conversation. If you want your child to learn your second language, they may still respond to you in their first language because they know you speak it. Children will naturally take the easy way out.

Introducing a puppet or doll who speaks the target language could help in this situation. It will provide the need to speak the language in order for the puppet to “understand”. If there is a need to speak the language, children will naturally use it.

Using Screentime to your advantage

As we mentioned above, young kids won’t learn a language well enough from screens. However they can be used as an extra resource to reinforce the learning. You can watch TV or movies together which are interactive, and talk about what is happening. You can watch YouTube videos with the songs, and sing together. As kids get older, there are some fantastic apps available in various languages, you can check out our list of recommended Language Apps for Kids here.

As long as screentime is used in moderation, and as an additional resource, rather than the primary resource, it can be very helpful to add exposure to the target language. Check out our article with more tips on how to use screen time to your advantage with bilingual kids.

Language exposure = Language learning naturally

Think about when babies are born, and how they acquire their language skills. There is no real teaching involved, they learn a language through natural daily exposure. Once they start school, they start formal learning.

Second language acquisition can come just as naturally with enough exposure. Even if it isn’t full time exposure, if it is quality exposure, kids will naturally acquire the language. You can check out THIS POST which goes into more detail about how much language exposure kids actually need to become bilingual.

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How to teach your child a language without actually teaching