No Time Like the Present: How and Why to Give the Gift of Language Learning to Your Child(ren)

Written by my special guest Carolina Gomez.

Learning a language is enriching at any age, but it is more challenging when we are adults. Children are the ones who benefit the most simply because there is a special window of opportunity for learning where everything happens in a very natural process. Children are curious about the world around them, and that curiosity is a key element in the learning process.

Children are always excited about learning, so why not give them the opportunity to learn new words and explore different sounds in a new language?

There are many reasons why children should be exposed to a new language. First, children who understand there are more than a few ways to say the same thing inherently understand a bit about the links between language and culture and are better equipped to reach across divides of race, class, and ethnicity – both at home and abroad. No matter what your politics, we can all agree that this kind of deep understanding and broad awareness is important for the future of our planet. It has also been proven that bilingual individuals, or even individuals who have been exposed for at least 4 years to a foreign language, are more likely to score higher in standardized tests. Language skills are also vital for the 21st century workplace, with changing demographics across the US and the rise of China, India, and other nations in the world economy. Learning a language is also, quite simply, powerful brain exercise, and a young child’s brain is much more malleable than those of adults.

Children are also more capable of utilizing a native like- accent in a second language: children are always mimicking what they hear and are typically very good at reproducing those sounds.  Their ears are very tuned to identify different sounds that adults often cannot distinguish between. Studies have also shown that adults who had a exposure  to a language during childhood are more likely to end up speaking like a native. Muscles are flexible, and their tongue can move to different positions.

What can you do if you don’t have any knowledge of the language or feel that you don’t know enough? The fact that you are reading this means you are already doing something for your children. Your motivation will get them motivated.

Be a role model: Show them that you care about other cultures and languages, and share that passion with them. Even if you can’t afford the time or expense of foreign travel, there are many ways to expose them – even beyond television and books – to people of many different cultures right here in the US.

Make it fun and playful: children love to play, and playtime in a foreign language creates a natural environment to bring a new language alive.

Include Spanish time in your routine: It could be as little as five minutes, it doesn’t have to be a long period; believe me they benefit from everything and absorb it extremely fast.

Use short sentences in your daily routine (click here to listen to the sentences):

¡Vamos a cantar! Let’s sing!

¡Vamos a jugar! Let’s play!

¡Vamos a leer! Let’s read!

¡Es hora de la siesta! It’s nap time!

Find time to sing a song, play a game, listen to a story in a CD, find stories they already know in English. Remember that the primary goal is not to raise bilingual children, but to give them the opportunity to be exposed to another language and the benefits.

If you know someone who knows the language, invite them to  come to your class to sing a song or read a book.

Have fun trying these songs in Spanish with your class!

La Danza del Paracaidas (Parachute dance)

Los números – Numbers

Mi cara – My face

Adiós mis amigos – Good bye my friends

About the Author: Carolina grew up in Colombia, South America. She holds a Bachelors degree in Modern Languages from La Universidad del Valle in Colombia and a Masters in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University in Boston. Carolina enjoys teaching children her language and exploring the vibrant cultures of Latin America in a fun way and has been teaching languages to children for over 12 years in Colombia, Guatemala, and the United States – in private schools, public schools, and out-of-school settings. She is now a classroom K-3 Spanish teacher in Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols (BB&N) in Cambridge, MA. She is a member of MaFLA (Massachusetts Foreign Language Association) and ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). In 2005, Carolina founded 1-2-3 Spanish Together, an early language music and curriculum designed to teach Spanish to children and their families and help other teachers learn the trade. She also shares a lot teaching tips on her new website for teachers Fun for Spanish Teachers and her blog.