Fostering a love of foreign languages amongst children has become increasingly important to parents over the last decade. Whilst being able to speak more than one language does afford a competitive advantage at school and in the job market, the main motivation behind this trend is wanting to engage with the global society that we live in. Ask your child or your child's teacher how many foreign languages are spoken by families at their nursery or their school - I'm sure you'll be surprised! My colleague counts 20 languages at her child's primary school in Kingston-upon-Thames. With an increase in cultural imports (films, books, cartoons, games, YouTube sensations) and the border-free realm of social media, exposure to foreign cultures and languages is something your child can be guaranteed. And the myth that 'everyone speaks English' is, well, exactly that: a myth! Over 75% of the world's population does not speak a word of English.
Luckily for parents there is no need to panic because young kids make the perfect foreign language students. Speaking and listening are core skills and young children are primed to learn and absorb words that they hear. They'll imitate accents perfectly; they'll understand context and their brains will make sense of sentence structures and verb conjugations without you having to teach them overtly. Kids also love singing, dancing and playing, which are brilliant ways to pick up a foreign language. You don't even need to be an expert yourself - find some resources online or at your local bookshop and learn with them.
It's great exercise for the brain.
Local areas tend to offer excellent clubs for language learning so have a look online. There are some bilingual nurseries around and you don't need to be able to speak both languages yourself in order to send your child there. Libraries often run introductory sessions and there are many specialist clubs that run during the holidays. Here are a few of my favourite ways to practise my languages (I speak three and I use them regularly at work and with my friends):
- Speaking to foreign friends
- Watching TV programmes or films in a foreign language
- Reading books (sometimes very simple ones) in the language I am learning
- Listening to the foreign radio stations online
Children might also enjoy some of the following activities:
- Singing songs in a foreign language
- Playing team games where the instructions are spoken in another language
- Writing and illustrating simple stories
- Going to classes with their friends
So, don't be shy (your kids certainly won't be), and have a go. It's an invaluable skill that you'll have for life.
About the Author
b small publishing ltd.
Sam runs an independent children's book publishing company that specialises in creative activity books and foreign language learning books for children aged 2 to 12 years. The company is called 'b small publishing ltd' and it's very small indeed with only two members of staff, supported ably by a lovely bunch of freelancers. You can visit their website for more information: www.bsmall.co.uk. Before b small, Sam cut his teeth at HarperCollins Children's Books for a few years. And before even that, Sam studied foreign languages at university, managed to hop around Europe for a few years and worked part-time in a children's activity centre.