Starting Young

If you truly want your child to be multilingual, the best advice is to start them young. Children's brains are uniquely suited to learning language; they would never learn to speak the way they do without a brain specifically designed to the task. However, as we age, our brain starts to busy itself with other aspects of learning, and we gradually lose the ability to soak up language like a sponge. So, if you are multilingual and wish your children to learn a language you speak, don't be afraid to use it around them on a daily basis. If you don't speak another language but would like to learn, find classes that you and your child can take together. The younger they start, and the more support they have in learning the language from the adults around them, the better its chances of sticking.

Stick With It

It is unfortunate that in America today, there is no consistent study of a foreign language for students the way there is in other subjects. By the time kids are encouraged to study a foreign language in high school, they have lost the innate ability to pick up on language and are limited in the languages they can study by the constraints of the school. If you want your child to start learning a language at a young age, or any age, and really be able to benefit from it when she is older, education in that language must be continuous and progressive. If you do not practice a new skill, you will lose it after a short time, and the same is true with learning a language. Unless your child is surrounded by that language, she must practice it, study it, and reinforce her language skills while she is young so that she will be able to use it fluently as an adult. On the plus side, however, if a child studies a language for many years, she will recall it much easier as an adult than a student who didn't start learning a language until high school and only studied it for two or three years.

Language and Culture

There is so much to be learned about other cultures through language. The culture in which a language developed can be seen in their idiomatic expressions, in the way they conjugate verbs, in the order of the words in their sentences, and in the number and variety of words they use to express themselves. The common comment about the number of words that Native American tribes from the far north have for snow is a great example of culture expressing itself through language. Because they live in an area where the weather is dominated by snow and cold, they developed a number of ways of describing their environment through the use of different words. In contrast, there may be native languages of people in tropical regions who have no word for snow, because they never had to describe it. learning a language from a culture besides your native one can give you surprising insights into the people who speak it, the history of their culture, and the way they view the world. And in our current global age, where your child has a good chance of interacting with another person in written or verbal form through the internet on a regular basis, wouldn't an understanding of how that person's culture affects their verbal communication be a valuable one?

Promote and Understand

The best way to promote language learning with your child is to give them an opportunity to learn. If their school doesn't offer language courses yet, or if they're too young for school, it is very easy to find after-school or independent programs for them to take. Since you are reading this online, just go and search for "language classes in {name of your city here}" and you will certainly find something that they will love. There are after-school programs, weekend classes, immersive programs, summer classes, private lessons, family lessons, and parent-child classes, so you will almost certainly be able to find something to fit your schedule. However, for your children to truly find language instruction useful, you should try and reinforce their understanding as much as possible outside the classroom. Here are some ideas for encouraging your child's language learning:

  • If you are learning the language with them, or already speak it fluently, set aside some time for you and your child to converse in their new language.
  • Watch foreign movies with subtitles to reinforce the connection between English and the other language. Or, watch a movie that your child is familiar with in the language they are learning, without subtitles, to get them used to hearing the natural flow of words.
  • If they are in school, host a foreign exchange student
  • Travel to countries where that language is spoken. You may not even have to go far. Spanish is spoken in Mexico, and French in Canada, and those are two of the most common languages for American students to study.
  • Have discussions on the historical and cultural roots of words, specifically the names of streets or towns, types of foods, and specific cultural events and the trappings that surround them.
  • Discuss your family history with your children, the language that your ancestors spoke, and how their culture influences your family even today.

The most important thing to remember if you want to encourage your child to learn a new language is to reinforce it and support them. Encourage enthusiasm for the study of another culture, and do your best to learn with them if they are delving into unfamiliar territory. The benefits of multilingualism are available to everyone, and if you encourage your child to learn, you may be surprised at what they can teach you as well!