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All parents want the best for their children, and the social, cognitive and communication benefits of being multilingual has led to many people striving to teach their children to talk in more than one language. A multilingual child has a great advantage over her peers. Beside the ability to effectively communicate with more people and the resulting broader experience with multiple cultures, being multilingual is a definite advantage when they become an adult and seek employment opportunities. Recent research and studies have also concluded that multilingual people are more creative in their thinking and may retain sharper brain function, as they get older.
It is a well-known fact that in their formative years, children learn new languages much easier than a teenager does or adult would. This is because they undergo a period where the correct stimulation and environmental exposure to languages coincides with their developmental maturation. It is crucial to expose a child to new languages early with the understanding that it will take considerable time as well as patience and consistency.
By the time children are 2 years old, they are not only learning new words to add to their vocabularies, but also getting to understand various patterns of speech they have been exposed to since they were born. This means that if you choose to introduce a second language early, your child will be able to recognize its unique sounds more readily. According to linguist François Thibaut, the human ability to recognize unique phonetic pronunciations is at its sharpest before a child turns 3, and this ability degrades with time. Even passive exposure such as listening to a piece of music, learning a few simple words or hearing a TV show can give a child the most essential tools necessary to appreciate the language and will make it easier for her to speak it later.
Start With One Word at a Time
It is important to remember that at an early age, your child is being deluged by a large amount of new information that she has to learn from, so it is best to start with simple words before teaching them to construct phrases and sentences. To make learning less formal and more fun, you can start off bilingual basics by teaching your child that common household objects and features in your home can be named in each language. The same can apply to new words that your child learns in English.
Create a Casual Learning Environment
Hearing people speak a language fluently is the best way that a child can use to get a grasp of a new language. By being exposed to everyday conversation, the child will start to pick up unique phonetic aspects and develop a natural accent. The selection of a second language for your child should be based on an investigation of languages commonly spoken by people in your neighborhood, in local children’s playgroups or on television shows that she can watch on a regular basis. Making most of the process informal and natural will make your child learn faster as they are under little pressure.
Hire a Bilingual Babysitter
If you have a demanding work schedule or have to be away from home for extended periods, you will most likely be using the services of a nanny or babysitter to care for your child. If you do not speak any other languages, you may choose to hire a bilingual nanny or babysitter. Ensure that you instruct your babysitter to try to speak only the second language you choose when they are around your child. Children between the ages of 2 and 3 often learn to speak by mimicking whatever they hear, and through daily immersion in the language and practice through talking to their nanny, they will quickly begin to understand the meanings of simple words and construction of short phrases.
Read To Your Child
Reading books in different languages to your child regularly will help them develop the required reading and literacy skills and will provide plenty of practice in the proper use of the new language. Have a regular schedule where you can read interesting stories that will fascinate, entertain, and educate your child for at least 20 minutes every day. Be sure to switch between languages on alternate days if you are trying to teach more than one added language to ensure even exposure to the languages. Encourage your child to read back to you or talk about what they think of the stories. This will help you clear up any misconceptions and mistakes, while building their language skills.
One of the most effective ways to raise multilingual children is to enroll them in immersion classrooms. These types of classes have gained increasing popularity among various communities in the U.S. today. An immersion classroom helps a child learn different languages by having lessons taught in a language different from English for at least half the day. Some immersion classrooms dedicate the entire day to the decided language, with the teacher only talking in the language. While there are a variety of languages available in different immersion classrooms, the most common is Spanish.
Limit Your Expectations
Seeing other children speak fluently in multiple languages can place a lot of pressure on a parent to try to have their child do the same. It is true that a child will not be fluent in a second language by simply hearing the words you speak, singing songs or by watching TV shows without some kind of formal teaching of the language. However, the constant exposure and immersion in a different language will help your child immediately understand the meaning of certain often-used phrases as soon as she hears them. While it is unlikely that you will be having a conversation in Spanish with your 3 year old child any time soon, if you make a habit of saying “buenas noches” every evening at her bedtime, she will recognize the times you say it and eventually figure out what you mean.
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