The Ultimate DIY Guide to Helping Your Kids Learn a Language (Part 2)
If you haven’t read Part 1 of the Ultimate DIY Guide you can find it here. In Part 1, I focused on the importance of speaking to your child in the new language and how to go about doing that even if you’re not confident using the language yourself.
And if you’re reading this thinking ‘I’m not good enough to speak to my children in a new language’, believe me, you are.
- Can’t speak for 5 minutes? speak for 2.
- Can’t use complicated sentences? Use very simple ones that you’ve practised beforehand.
- Can’t speak in sentences? Use the words you do know and fill in the blanks with your native language.
Whatever your starting point you can always say something to your children in your target language and build up slowly from there.
So if you're on board with the idea of speaking the language to your child, Part 2 of this Ultimate DIY Guide is going to focus on the other things that you can do to boost your chances of success and enjoy learning a language with your children.
Are you ready?
(Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something by following the link, I will get a commission. However, I only recommend products that I love, that I know are good value and that produce great results)
10. Read, read, read.
After speaking, reading is the best thing that you can do to help your child learn a language. There are so many benefits I could (and will) write a whole blog post about reading so I’ll try to just give you the headlines here.
- When you read a book in your target language you are getting direct access to the natural sounding, native language.
- If you’re not a confident or fluent speaker yourself, you can ‘mine’ hundreds of useful phrases, expressions and sentences from books. (if you want to know more about how to ‘mine’ a resource for language, you can read more in Part 1 of the Guide)
- Your children (and you!) will be exposed to a much wider range of vocabulary. There is no better way to broaden their vocabulary and expose them to lots of the language, especially if you’re not a native speaker. You might only manage to chat to them in your target language for a minute or two, but you can read a book to them for as long as they will listen.
- Children who read a lot (or who are read to) will internalise the grammar patterns of a language more easily because they will hear them constantly repeated in a variety of different contexts.
- Children love stories. Obviously some children are more naturally bookworm-ish than others. But I strongly believe that if you’re children don’t seem to enjoy being read to, it just means that you haven’t found the right story or the right way of telling it yet.
- Children (especially young children) love to hear stories repeated many times. In fact, while adults usually find the repetition involved in language learning a bit of a chore, children will ask for a story again and again until they have internalised it. This is a wonderful way of naturally absorbing a language and much more enjoyable and effective than activities like flashcards.
- Reading aloud will help you to internalise phrases and sentences, practise your speaking skills and help you to correct your grammar so that you are a more confident, accurate speaker when you talk to your children.
11. Get Musical
Music is a fantastic way of making a connection with a language and has the added bonus that everybody can find a song that they enjoy. Here are just a couple of reasons why music is a great resource to get you and your child enthusiastic about learning a language.
- It's fun and you should never underestimate the value of fun in learning a new language.
- It puts a lot of language into memorable packages. I bet you can still remember all the lyrics to whatever pop songs you liked when you were fifteen. Music is a wonderful way of getting large chunks of language into our long term memories.
- It will improve your pronunciation. Learning a song involves listening intently and trying to match the words, tune, tone and intonation of the native singer. It’s fantastic for getting a feel for the sound of a language.
If you are learning French and want to know more about finding and using French songs with your child, sign up for my free toolkit.
12 Be Bold and Intentional.
When I first realised I wanted to speak French to my children, I was very timid. I often became frustrated with my lack of ability to say what I wanted and then would go a couple of days without saying anything. I felt embarrassed about trying to speak French to them in public so I only spoke English. I didn't even tell my extended family what I was doing in case they thought I was being ridiculous to try to speak to the children in a language I was only just learning myself.
Then I realised I wasn't getting anywhere like this. I made a plan of what things I could say in French and what things I wanted to be able to say as a starting point. You can follow my plan by downloading my Free Toolkit: How to Speak French to your Child.
I decided to use every possible opportunity to use the phrases I had planned with my children in French, wherever we were or whoever we were with, and to stop caring about whether or not other people thought we were crazy.
We haven't looked back since.
I realise this is easier said than done, particularly if you are shy or an introvert. So because it’s tough feeling confident when you’re embarking on such a big, new project you should really do the next few things on my list.
13. Get comfortable hearing yourself speaking the language
I highly recommend booking a session with a French tutor on italki as a starting point. This was an absolute game changer for me and made me realise both that I could get up the courage to speak and that it was actually a huge amount of fun.
You can find community tutors (not professional teachers) on italki for very reasonable rates. Whether you decided to have regular sessions or not is totally up to you, but I thoroughly recommend having at least one session to help you get over that first ‘hump’ of speaking to another person in your target language.
Personally, I think if you’re serious about learning the language yourself and really improving your speaking, it’s worth having a session a week. Your tutor is also your invaluable link to a native speaker who can answer your questions.
If the thought of booking a lesson and speaking to someone in your target language is making your sweat, I recommend the Conversation Countdown Course from Benny Lewis at Fluent in 3 Months.
14. Find a Community to support you.
There will be times when you encounter a problem, have a question or just feel a bit overwhelmed by the task of teaching your child to speak another language.
There will be naysayers who think that you are wasting your time or family members who don’t understand why you are bothering to speak to your children in another language.
It’s important to find people who understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Find an internet forum, a facebook group, or language group near you. Join other language learners and parents and let it enthuse and inspire you to keep going.
I have always been a very independent learner and was happy doing it all by myself, but my experience has been enriched tenfold and my confidence has blossomed since I started getting involved in the online community of language learners and bloggers.
Language learners and multilingual parents are really the most lovely, supportive community you could wish to be part of but the only way to really understand the benefits is to see for yourself.
So sign up for a forum today and ask your first question. Here are some awesome online communities that I recommend (and am part of myself):
- The Facebook group from Kerstin’s Cable’s Fluent Language website which is for adult language learners and a great place to get support for your own learning. Kerstin speaks 8 languages, runs her blog and podcast and is active in her facebook community, always going the extra mile to help members find resources and answer their questions.
- The Bilingual Zoo is a forum run by Adam Beck of Bilingual Monkeys. It is a very friendly and supportive place, populated by a parents who are raising bilingual children with a whole range of language skills: from non-native, non-fluent speakers (like me!) to people who have experience in raising their children to speak multiple languages. Every single person in the forum thinks that teaching your child a new language is one of the best things you can do as a parent and you will always find support and advice from parents around the world on this forum if you just ask.
- Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children in a Second/Non-native Language. This is a Facebook group which, as the name states, is for parents like you who are trying to raise their children to speak a language which is not their native one. It’s lovely to know that you are not alone and that there are people all over the world who are doing the same thing as you.
15. Have fun
Don’t turn learning a new language into a lesson or a forced activity. Have fun with the language - read, sing and speak about things that are interesting and relevant to your child.
Don’t put any pressure on them.
Show them that you are learning and enjoying the language. One of the activities I love to do with my 3 year old is cooking and we now do our cooking sessions together almost entirely in French. If you make your time speaking the language with them fun, playful and special and they will be eager for more.
16. Get really excited by a little progress
Learning a new language is a long process and feeling like you're making progress is all about noticing and celebrating each little step. I keep these little moments in my journal. Here are some examples taken from my journal from the first few months of starting to use some French when I speak to Fred (my 3 year old):
“Repeated a french phrase - on y va!”
“Fred spontaneously said ‘tu as disparu!’ when we were playing instead of English (although he meant j’ai disparu)”
“Today Fred asked me to read the 3 little pigs in French instead of in English”
“He used a French phrase in front of other people because it was just the normal thing to say”
“Sang the whole of ‘une sourris verte’ to me”
“He could understand and answer questions when I recounted our day in French”
We are a long way, probably years away from being ‘bilingual’ or ‘fluent’ depending on how you define these concepts. If I was constantly only measuring our progress against the ultimate goal of ‘becoming bilingual’, I would quickly get despondent.
But these things from my journal document the incremental nature of acquiring a language. It shows me that my efforts are worth it, that he is starting to internalise and feel confident repeating some of the phrases I use most frequently, that he is becoming comfortable with French as a language, that he feels like it is a normal part of our everyday lives, that he continues to understand more and more and that he is enjoying the language. That’s a lot of progress and worth getting excited about!
I hope you’re feeling inspired and excited about helping your child to speak another language now too! Let me know in the comments what you are doing to help your child learn a new language - I love hearing from you!
Oh, and one more thing…
If you want help starting your own French speaking journey with your Child, sign up for your free toolkit.