The benefits of learning a second language at an early age are well documented, but what many parents don’t realise is that children can become fully bilingual even if the rest of the family aren’t!
How can parents help their child embark on the wonderful journey of bilingualism when the second language isn’t spoken at home? Some parents are under the false impression that a child needs to live, or be educated in, a bilingual environment to become fully proficient in that language and to attain an authentic accent.
The desire for children to learn a second language early on in life is growing, as parents become increasingly aware of the numerous benefits. Countless studies have concluded that learning a second language increases critical thinking and creativity. Multi-lingual children do better in both verbal and numerical tests at school than those who speak only English.
All well and good for children born into bilingual –or even trilingual – households, but what about the rest of us, who struggle with the simplest exchanges of conversation in another language?
“Worry not,” says Stella Bataille, who runs Club Petit Pierrot, London’s leading French club for babies and children. “It’s completely possible. Whilst you’re probably going to have to expose your child to native speakers, there are lots of things you can do to help your child along.
As young children are less inhibited and able to learn through play, the earlier you expose your child to another language, the better. After all you learnt your own native tongue at birth and even before! Recent research on brain scans of toddlers at King’s College London suggest before four years old is the “optimal window”. Songs and rhymes are an excellent place to start as children absorb vocabulary and grammatical structures, and they can also practise their accent. The Club Petit Pierrot CD is a great place to start – it features 36 original songs and rhymes.
Take them to a fun immersion class
Babies and young children have an insatiable appetite to learn and communicate. They don’t mind in which language they do this, as long as the exchange is full of meaning and fun! So choose a class where the emphasis is on communication. You’ll be amazed how quickly they pick things up! At Club Petit Pierrot there is no translation whatsoever. Instead, children are fully immersed in the language and learn actively. They get involved in a wide variety of stimulating activities which are age appropriate, such as songs, dances, arts and crafts, cooking and there are fun language games and worksheets for the older children too.
Find a Native Teacher
Your child will copy an authentic accent and a native teacher will pass on all the intricacies of the language and its culture. All the Club Petit Pierrot teachers are enthusiastic native French teachers and are passionate about teaching French to young children.
Learning is much easier when you’re having fun! In the right environment children will learn without pressure through play and exploring. They will learn without even realising it and the results will be far better – gone are the days of sitting down with flash cards! At Club Petit Pierrot they sing, they dance, they create, they read, they imitate, they play…they have fun!
Don’t force them
It is important not to force a child to speak in a second language. They will only speak if there is a need to, or if they want to! So keep it practical and fun without putting any pressure on your child. This is confirmed by the feedback which Club Petit Pierrot receives. Recently a parent reported to the teachers that while on holiday near Bordeaux in France, her two and a half year old daughter was spontaneously using all the vocabulary and phrases learned during the classes.
Relax and get involved
As adults we become self-conscious and inhibited. Thankfully, most children don’t have that problem. Follow their lead and unleash your inner child! Speak, sing, dance and play along with your child at home, and don’t worry if your accent isn’t up to it or you’re not pronouncing the words perfectly. We all make mistakes and that’s part of the learning process. Some of the best classes are the ones where parents join in – and the children really benefit from seeing their ultimate role models having fun! Just don’t be upset if your child makes much more rapid progress than you.
Play at home
You can also reinforce what they learn in their language classes at home by finding online language videos, cartoons, films, songs and rhymes, books, exercises and even apps. Join in with them and have fun!
Any child can learn a second language. They learn it in exactly the same way as they learnt their native tongue, but learning a second language does take commitment. Regular exposure to the language is crucial if bilingualism is to be achieved. That does take dedication, but with proven benefits for the young (and also now for those with, shall we say, more mature grey matter!) it’s a fantastic and extremely rewarding activity for the whole family to engage in. So there’s no excuse – launch your child on a wonderful journey to bilingualism today!
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