If your child is between the ages of 2 and 5, you may be wondering how to teach them a new language.
Whether this is just a second language spoken in your family, a heritage language, or even just a second language you would like to learn as a family, starting in preschool is the right choice.
But how do you actually go about teaching a foreign language to a preschooler? I have 7 simple tips that can help your preschooler acquire a new language.
How to Introduce a Foreign Language?
There are many ways to introduce a foreign language to a child. If you speak a heritage language, simply speaking it around your child in a one parent one language approach is one way. Another way is to introduce the new language in the context of their play. There is also one parent one language approach.
1. One Parent One Language
This method involves each parent speaking one language with the child. So if one parent is fluent in Arabic and the other parent is fluent in Spanish, each parent would only speak with the child in their respective language.
This became popular in 1908 when Jules Ronjat used it with his own child and popularized the method. This is still a popular method of teaching your child a second language today.
2. Learning in a Playful Way- Simon Says
If you are introducing a foreign language to your child, you can do so while playing. This helps them remember what they learned during play, and it also gives the parent a chance to use the second language with their child.
For instance, if your child is fluent in English, you can teach them a new word in their second language while playing a language game as Simon Says.
Simon can give partial or complete commands in the second language. Children can use their context clues (or hints from you) to figure out what was said.
5 More Ways to Teach a Foreign Language
There are many different approaches to teaching a foreign language to kids. You can use games, reading bilingual books, TV/movies, and more to teach your little one to speak a second language.
While I am saying teach your child a second language, it’s more about acquiring the language through conversation and using it.
3. Play Missing Word
Young children are very good at using context clues to understand what you’re saying. If you miss a word, your child can make a guess and is usually right.
So instead of missing a word, you can replace a word in a sentence, so your child starts learning the vocabulary of their soon-to-be new language.
For instance, if you teach your child Spanish, you can say, “It’s time to brush los dientes,” instead of “It’s time to brush your teeth.”
They can use their context clues to start figuring out what it is time for.
We played this with my children, mostly with articles of clothing first, then body parts. Slowly our sentences became more the new language than the old language.
4. Reading Bilingual Books
Books that have words in both their native language and the language you want them to learn are an excellent resource for when you are teaching the new language.
Some bilingual books feature word exchanges, as we did in the game above.
Other bilingual books have the story written in both languages, so you can read the same passage in both languages to your child.
5. Using TV shows and Movies to Teach a Foreign Language to Preschoolers
Tv shows and movies are a great way to make language learning fun and engaging for young children.
If you are teaching your child a new language, I recommend watching one of the Disney Junior programs in that language, if possible.
If that is not possible, find cartoons in the new language and play those. You will be amazed at how much language your child will acquire in this way.
Start with short 15-minute episodes and slowly work your way up.
You can also use this method for reading cartoon books for practice as well. If you aren’t familiar with the vocabulary in the cartoon books, you can find the words on Youtube or Google and print them out for practice.
6. Sing Children Songs in the New Language
Simple children’s songs that revolve around animals, colors, letters, and numbers are an excellent way to practice language skills with your preschooler.
Singing in the new language is a great way to introduce the language. Your child will learn to associate words with actions.
7. New Language I Spy
Once your child starts to learn colors and shapes in the new language, you can start using that new knowledge to play I Spy but in their new language.
This allows them to learn new words as well.
If they do not know the word once they figure out the clues, it is an excellent opportunity to teach that word to your child.
I Spy is played by one person saying, “I Spy with my little eye,” and then telling them to find something.
For example, I said, “I spy with my little eye something that is…” And include new vocabulary words.
You can even say the entire phrase in your new language. If the child uses the native word when they figure out the clue, gently give them the word in the new language.
What is the best age to start learning a second language?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that children should be introduced to a foreign language early, either as toddlers or preschoolers.
Research on the subject has shown that it is not necessary to start teaching foreign languages at an early age for a child to learn the language, so don’t feel like you missed your window. Introducing another language is always beneficial to children.
Many parents worry about their child being able to learn a foreign language because of how young they are.
Children of this age can absorb new information effortlessly and retain it without much effort, even if they are in elementary school or preschool.
Considering Immersion as a Teaching Option?
One of the most drastic but quickest ways to learn a new language at any age is through immersion. Many people do this (we did!) and find success. If you’re considering moving overseas for your children’s language learning but are still struggling to decide if it’s right, get access to my masterclasses where I help guide you through pros and cons and the all-important “but can we afford it,” issue.
Teaching a preschooler a new language should not be like teaching a high schooler a new language.
Leave the flashcards behind and help your preschooler acquire language through fun games and everyday exposure.
Teaching a preschooler a new language should not be rushed.
Your child will learn the words relevant to the task at hand. With time, they will become proficient in the new language.