I am so happy to be back here again at Extraordinary Mommy. Last time I was here we talked about traveling with kids. Because, well, that’s a really big part of my life and I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way! Hope you enjoyed it!
If you missed it, my family is made up of a Bahamian-born-and-raised husband, a Southern California girl, and two beautiful little mixed boys. We spend our time between France and California mostly, with visits to The Bahamas when we can. You can read more about me over here.
Living in France on and off for the last 6 years has been incredible. At the beginning I missed home so much. I missed my parents, I missed the weather, and I missed the ease that is America. Now that we’ve been living here for a while, I have fallen in love with the country of France. It’s absolutely gorgeous and has so much to offer. Of course, there is no perfect country out there, and I am still American at my core, but I’ve learned so much living here.
One thing that has become close to my heart is learning a second language. Not so much me, because that has been a serious labor of love, but for my kids. Watching them easily pick up a language and speak it like French born children has been absolutely amazing. It has me thinking too. Why in the world is America one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t start teaching their kids another language at a young age?
I know, I’ve heard the argument that we already speak one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Or if we started pursuing another language, which one would we choose? What if later in life that particular second language isn’t very useful anymore? I started learning Spanish in high school (still a little late) and then years later after studying in college as well, I found out my then boyfriend was moving to France to play basketball. I thought it might be wise to start learning that language instead! I had to switch languages at 22 years old.
But here’s my thing — it doesn’t matter what language kids learn when they’re younger, as long as they’re learning one! Little minds are absolutely amazing and can grasp so much more than we give them credit for. My son started French school at 3 years old without speaking a word of it. He is 6 now and speaks perfectly, without an accent, like a little French boy.
So I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to encourage parents in America to start teaching their kids another language at a younger age. Wait, what’s this you say? You don’t speak another language? No problem. It can still be done. I’m going to make a few suggestions to get your kids started on their second language.
Disclaimer: my kids speak fluently and it happened quickly because we live in France and they go to French school. So obviously being totally immersed made the process faster. My point of this post isn’t to suggest your kids should be fluent in three years. But the idea of exposing them early to a second language and making it a part of their world is what I’m getting at. It will help them in so many ways later in life.
YouTube is a great resource and has many language options to chose from. I have a friend who is teaching her 3-year-old daughter Mandarin using a YouTube channel. She went through quite a few channels until her daughter really connected with the teacher and loved watching. It’s a fun, simple way to bring another language into the home.
Muzzy is a fun little cartoon that is used to teach kids another language. It started as a program to teach English as a second language and now you can learn French, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Esperanto and Portuguese. We tried French for a bit when my first son was younger. When presented in a fun way that the kids enjoy, it doesn’t feel like learning. But it is, they are soaking up those words like we can’t even imagine!
Videos/TV in the second language
This one is a little tougher as kids get older, so I would suggest starting from the very beginning. My kids still prefer to watch films in English but love watching cartoons in French – who knew! They have only ever watched cartoons in French so it’s normal to them and films have always been in English. So if you start when your kids are young and whenever something comes on TV it’s in the language you’re choosing to teach them, it will be normal to them. They won’t even really know there is another option and will be understanding it, maybe even speaking it, before you know it!
I realize this might not be an option available to everyone, but I thought I’d include it anyway. You can hire a live-in au pair (like a nanny who comes from another country) for less than $100 a week. Just ask them to only speak their native tongue to the children and they can use their English with you. You will be in absolute awe of the progress you will see in your kids.
If an au pair isn’t an option, think about hiring a bilingual babysitter or nanny. Even if it’s just a couple times a week/month, your kids will still be getting the opportunity to be exposed to another language. That’s really key at such a young age.
See if there is a group or class in your area that teaches another language. I know that when I was young I took a Spanish class for children. I remember it well and perhaps that could have been what spurred on my love for languages! It would also be a fun activity for your kids.
Do you know a family that speaks more than one language in the home? Maybe one parent is from another country? Ask your friends to help out with their language skills or to only speak in that language to them. I only speak French to one of my friends’ daughters. We also have friends here who are Swedish and speak Swedish at home, and their kids are learning French at school and they speak English with us. English is their weakest language but when it does come along (and it will, everyone speaks English in Sweden) he will immediately have three languages! Amazing!
Rosetta Stone is a great learning option for a foreign language. For adults as well! We have had our kids doing Rosetta Stone in French just to make sure to brush up on the language and it’s been great. The reason this program is great is because it teaches the language like a child would be learning a first language — with pictures and listening. If they are children that are motivated by completing projects & levels, this could be great.
Once again, I know this might not be practical for everyone; it most certainly wouldn’t be for us if we lived in the States because it can be rather pricey. However, if you have the means, it’s an absolutely fantastic idea to send your kids to an immersion school. I know in Los Angeles they have a few French immersion schools where they are exactly the same as French schools, same curriculum, same breaks, and it’s all in French. Our neighbors in America send their kids to one and they are now fluent in French and English. It’s amazing. And you know what? Those kids don’t know any different; they are just naturally speaking another language like it’s nothing to them. What an incredible thing!!
A few side notes that I have learned along the way.
- It doesn’t really matter what mode you’re doing as long as you’re doing it. Some would obviously take longer to develop the language than others, but just the fact that you are presenting another language to your kids is genius.
- Make it fun. Learning another language can be and is fun! Find what ignites interest in your little one and do it. If they feel like it’s another thing they have to do or if it has a negative connotation, languages might be something they hate forever.
- It’s really easier than you think. If you don’t speak a second language, this whole thing probably sounds pretty intimidating. Trust me, I know! My 6-year-old speaks better French than I do! But once you start, I think you’ll be amazed at your kid and at the whole process.
- Not everyone enjoys languages. I include this because everyone thinks differently. My husband hates speaking French and has no real desire to learn it except to understand his kids. He would rather do a math problem. Me, if someone sat me down and made me do math, I’d curl up into a little ball and cry. I still would suggest introducing it to your child, but maybe going slow and presenting it in a way that appeals to them. Maybe as a game or a competition (if they’re competitive), or even with a rewards system.
- You never know where it could lead. For one, you just don’t know the potential of your child with languages until they start; and, two, you never know what you could ignite in them through this process. What if one little YouTube video spurs your child on to learn 3 or 4 languages and become an ambassador or work as a translator or humanitarian? The options are endless and you’re giving your kids a truly remarkable gift.
I cannot stress enough how important I think this is. Americans need to catch up! I am getting my diploma in French class at the University nearby and the other Americans and I are the only ones in the class who are only on their second language. Everyone else is learning French as a third or fourth language!! My son’s first grade class here in France does English and I teach English in my 3-year-old’s class!! American’s don’t start until so much later that it is so much harder for us to learn. And most of us (myself included) start so late that we will always have an accent in the other language.
Well, that’s all I have for you today! I hope you’re inspired to give it a try!