It’s no surprise that technology and globalization have made our world much smaller in terms of commerce and social interaction. You might find yourself on a phone or teleconference call on any given day with clients in faraway places like Shanghai, London, or Cape Town. Additionally, this country hosts a massive number of migrants and refugees from countries all over the globe.
Given these realities, it makes sense that learning a second, or even third, language can make the world more accessible to your child than ever before. Unfortunately, we in the United States are a little late to the game in terms of language acquisition and mastery. While roughly 64% of the population of the European Union has attained fluency in at least one foreign language (usually English), the latest US Census numbers show that most Americans remain monolingual, with 78% residing in homes where English is the only language spoken.
Granted, the Census doesn’t collect data on how many Americans speak other languages outside the home. Still, anecdotal evidence indicates that bilingualism in the United States has a way to go to keep up with other developed countries.
The Benefits of Bilingualism
Beyond the obvious benefits of better communication and cultural understanding, knowing how to speak languages other than your native tongue has several cognitive advantages. According to one study, “Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain,” bilingual capacity creates a ‘mental flexibility’ that allows people to quickly shift their attention and process information more efficiently. This translates into better critical thinking, problem-solving, and multitasking and improved memory and concentration.
The earlier a child begins learning an additional language, the more pronounced these skills will become. In addition, young people with fluency in a second or third language can assimilate more readily into a global society and set themselves up for success after school. Finally, studies show that later in life, second-language learners enjoy greater protection from cognitive declines, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
How Can I Help My Kid Become Bilingual?
One of the best ways to start your child on the path to bilingualism is to involve them in a public or independent school language program. Foreign language immersion programs were first introduced to public and private elementary schools in the early 1970s.
While many public school systems still hold off language instruction until middle and high school, a growing amount of research backs up the shift to introduce foreign languages earlier at the pre-K and K-6 levels. Today’s more popular languages include Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Mandarin.
However, you don’t have to wait until your child is school-age to start second-language instruction. Various studies show that children begin learning in the womb, so it’s never too early to start.
There are many different ways to begin at home, regardless of whether you already speak the language you want them to learn or not. If you are fluent in a foreign language, here are some things you can do at home:
- Narrate in the target language – While cleaning the house, you can explain what you’re doing in simple sentences, e.g., “I’m making the bed” and “Your sink is dirty. I’m going to clean it now.” As you do this, you can also use sticky notes to build vocabulary for your actions.
- Plan activities in both languages – If you’re making hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, do it first in English, and a few days later, try making more while speaking in the foreign language. Your child already knows the process, so now he will be able to recognize and begin to understand the unfamiliar terms that go with it.
- Encourage your child to use what they’re learning in fun ways – If they ask you when dinner will be ready, maybe shrug your shoulders and say something like, “No hablo Inglés.” Or if they text you something in English, text them back in the target language. Remember, this should be fun banter back and forth, not something they feel they’re being tested on.
- Incorporate charades – Using gestures and facial expressions is another fun way of getting your point across and helping your child remember words and phrases.
And if you’re not fluent in a foreign language? Not to worry, you have options:
- Get to know a native speaker – Spending even an hour or two with a native speaker on a regular basis can increase your child’s language learning by leaps and bounds. Consider hiring a part-time babysitter whose native language is the one you’re trying to teach. You might also look into community cultural groups to meet other moms and dads with different language skills and set up playdates with your kids.
- Watch media in the target language – While not as effective as meeting with a native speaker, watching movies in a foreign language with English captions can help train your child’s ear to hear and understand unfamiliar words.
- Invest in kid-friendly language software and apps – There are many effective and user-friendly language-learning programs for children, including Gus on the Go, Duolingo, Peg and Pog, and Rosetta Stone, Kids.
- Learn alongside your child – This last one can incorporate all the above methods and allow you and your child to bond over a new way of communicating. It’s definitely the most labor-intensive, though, and it likely will take longer to develop language mastery.
Even though many other countries have long incorporated English learning into their curriculum, nearly three-quarters of the world’s population doesn’t speak English. If we want to improve relations with our global neighbors, learning their language represents a solid step in the right direction. It’s a win for the world, and it’s a win for your child. You can help get them started.
Looking for a Georgia Christian school with a Spanish language program? Contact us today.