Teaching Pre-Schoolers Another Language

I have long wondered, should I have been started much earlier in my language training would I now be bi-lingual, or even fluent in more than two languages?

It’s a long argued point that kids in Britain do not start language training early enough, and, not enough emphasis is put on it during the primary school years.

My first taste of a foreign language came very late in my primary school education, I think I was about ten. With these thoughts playing on my mind and recognising the importance of learning other languages and the lucrative jobs that this skill can land you, I have decided to start super early with Erin.

My first move was to buy this bi-lingual toy for christmas. For her birthday I have asked her aunty to buy a French learning pack. I’m not going to sit down and attempt to ‘teach’ her anything at this stage, after all, she is only a baby. However, I will be integrating french words and songs to our daily routine to get her used to hearing the sounds.

I hope that by doing this I will encourage a life long love of learning languages that will open up a variety of opportunity for travel and work in her future.

More to come on learning a language….

Are YOU teaching your kids a second language?

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17 Responses to Teaching Pre-Schoolers Another Language

  1. Michelle says:

    No but I sure wish I was. They need it young.

  2. Kerri says:

    I’ve done a little Spanish with my now 5 year old, just the little I know. I’m planning on putting a Spanish program on her Christmas list! I think her brothers would start picking it up, too.

  3. Kate says:

    We are a multilingual family. I am a Canadian anglophone, my husband is Bulgarian and we live in Germany. I would say that my 4 year-old is about 6 months behind the other kids his age in terms of language development, but I expect him to catch up by the time he’s five. He speaks all three languages at the same level and, when we are in Canada, or playing with a bilingual toy or reading a “let’s learn another language” book, he is so sensitive that he picks up the saying immediately.

    Right now, “Quiero el perro,” I want the dog, that he learned from a magazine is all the rage, but learning words from a toy, a book or tv is not the same as learning a language and how it is used.

    In our house, I speak to the kids only in English, my husband on in Bulgarian and in public and at Kindergarten, German. We also have videos, DVDs and books in all three languages so we balance out exposure that way. For example, if my husband is away on business, we watch a Bulgarian movie.

    Speaking a language that is not your own so that your child will learn it early is not a great idea. I hear German parents trying it will English a lot and the combination of accent, funny grammar and artificial situation is sure just to create more problems.

    If you live in Canada, you might consider a bi-lingual or international preschool that offers French (in the US Spanich is offered more widely) five mornings or afternoons a week. Otherwise, seek out a Francophone babysitter and have her speak to the children only in French. Also, if your kids watch TV, have them watch only in French. This will reinforce anything the toys teach.

    I haven’t written seriously about multilingual children, but we do have adventures. Here is my most recent post with a multilingual element

    And here is an article I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor on the topic

    I congratulate you on getting started early. It really does help.

  4. hi, we’re trilinguil-ing our kid from day one. i’m a US citizen born in russia, my husband is guatemalan and we’re living in costa rica. he’s got three languages swirling aorund in his head, poor little man.
    i’ve written about that on my blog if you want to keep up with multilingual kids:
    but i recommend it from as young as possible!!!
    they’ll be confused at first but then catch up and be fluent in months!

  5. Lisa says:

    That is a great idea. I don’t have any children yet but would love to start them early on learning a second language, so I am glad to hear there are toys out there that can help with that. I grew up in Canada where there are two official languages, English and French. I started learning french in kindergarten (I already knew my alphabet and numbers up to 10 by that point from watching Sesame Street), and I want my children to have that same early introduction to other languages.

  6. Tricia says:

    My son is in Kindergarden and they are teaching the children Spanish. I believe it’s a newer thing, because there have been a few surveys to get some feedback on the program. I don’t mind that he is learning it and I encourage it.

  7. kailani says:

    I haven’t been actively teaching my daughter a second language but she’s picked up a lot from watching Dora! LOL!

    Here via Carnival of Family Life.

  8. Karen says:

    Hi, I got a “French for babies” CD for my daughter when she was a newborn and played it lots…until I lost it 🙁

    I think it’s fantastic to get them used to new words early. I learnt German in highschool and can still read/speak it. Our public library has a large range of german books for kids and from time to time my daughter borrows one and I’ll read it to her.

    I have NO idea if it sinks in, but I guess it’s something.

    Found you via Carnival of family life 🙂

  9. DevonT says:

    Hi, I came across your blog through a link at the Play Library blog. I’m the Director of an English school in Tokyo for kids and we have classes for children as young as 2, so I thought I’d chime in.

    I think it’s great that you have decided to expose your child to a foreign language at a young age, and to do so by integrating French little by little into your daily routines. Songs are definitely a great way to do this.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind the rationale for early foreign language education. Until the age of about 9 months, babies are able to distinguish the unique sounds of different languages. So, for example, a Japanese baby is able to distinguish the English “R” and “L” sounds, something that Japanese adult learners of English struggle with no matter how long they study. From about the age of 9 months (as best as research indicates now), children begin to focus laser-like on the language of their care-takers and begin to kind of filter out foreign sounds.

    As children grow older, the language circuitry in the brain becomes more and more hard-wired, allowing for faster processing but also making it harder and harder to learn a foreign language. It is argued that there is a “critical period” between the ages of 10-14 after which it is highly unlikely for a person to achieve native-like fluency in a foreign lanuage.

    By introducing foreign languages to children while they are still flexible, you are not just giving them a leg up by having them learn early, you are helping them keep their language centers receptive to that foreign language well into adulthood.

    In a situation like yours, where the child will not be immersed in the foreign language, the primary benefits I think you should focus on are phonetic awareness and building an appreciation and love for learning foreign languages. Understand that while grammatical mastery or building a huge vocabulary are not likely outcomes of occasional usage of French, helping her develop an ear for the language (and, as a result, the ability to develop native-like pronunciation) is very much a possible benefit. And that ear for the language will help her tremendously as she grows older and has opportunities for greater exposure to the language…as it will allow her to process and “pick up” a lot more of the language (vocab, grammar, and otherwise).

    One last thing. There has been some research indicating that human interaction is a key factor in a child learning a foreign language. One study had a group of very young children play in a room where they had stimulating Chinese videos (like Baby Einstein type stuff) and simple Chinese kids songs, and another group playing in a room with a Chinese caretaker who only used Chinese. As you would expect, the children in the room with the caretaker showed a better understanding of Chinese, but it was much, much better.

    So, videos, CDs, and using French together at home are great (especially if you have good French pronunciation), but I would recommend trying a French language play group or mommy and me language course once a week if you can. Perhaps you can find such a group for free or cheap at a community center nearby.

    Wow…didn’t mean to go on so long…but I’ve seen some pretty amazing things teaching English to young learners here, and I have no doubt that learing foreign languages empowers children with social, educational, and career opportunites throughout their lives. It sounds like you’re approaching it right. Best of luck!

  10. Christine says:

    Living in the SouthWest here in Arizona, learning a second language is very important! There are cartoons focusing on teaching toddlers English and Spanish, like Dora the Explorer. Thank you for sharing this bi-lingual toy. I’ll need to check it out

  11. Little Mummy says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments.

    I think joining a french group will be a definite for us a little while down the line.

  12. Morgan says:

    Talk about learning late in life that you have the aptitude but the process of learning is hard … the military tested me and said I scored in the highest range, but I know very litte.

    Yet, what little I know I incorporate into my 19-month-old’s life. While everyone else counts to three in English for him, when I’m lifting him in and out of his car seat I let myself count to three in French (I can say it, but not spell it).

    I find other ways to drop little things in there because he’s learning the English language and in the beginning he might as well be taught that there are many words for things. He’ll be able to sort through the words and divide them into languages later.

    Hopefully, if he’s ever tested for language aptitude the results will just reinforce why he is bi-lingual, tri-lingual or better.

  13. Misty says:

    You all so wise. I recently made a choose that I was going to see to it my daughter grew up learning more than one language. I want her to have every oppurtunity when she later applys for a job. She is only 2 but I was told now is the best time. I come into trouble because I do not know where to start. She likes her Dora the Explora, but only for a little while.

    She has alot of energy and I love that about her but I know she is not going to stand still and listen to new words. She does love music and she does love to dance. I thought I could buy her a CD with songs in another language. She loves memorizing songs and dancing. I wanted her second language to be Japanese or Chinese.

    Can anyone give me some pointers. cherry_misty@yahoo.com

  14. Letitia Weikel says:

    I have heard that the earlier that you start a child on a second language, the easier it is for them to learn. I have seen households where the two parents speak different languages and the child seems to understand both equally well. That would prove that the earlier two languages are heard the easier it is for the child to associates different “words” for the same object.

    I didn’t try to learn another language until High School and it was very difficult and I never really picked it up. My husband on the other hand learned Japanese in High School and even spent a year in Japan teaching English. He had a real desire to learn it.

    I think a young child just hears the word no matter what language we use and they don’t “think” that it might not be English as it is just a word. I wish there were more programs for young children to learn other languages, but I think the main problem is that the parent usually only knows one and in the US that is English.

  15. I have two nephews and once niece. The oldest is fluent in four languages; the others in two. Exposing children to foreign languages is critical in securing their ease with and proficiency in foreign languages. My sister and brother in law are proficient in several languages as well which also reveals that the ability of parents to reinforce what their children learn is also critical.

  16. suzanne says:

    I am English and my husband is Arabic my daughter is 2 and half and the frist language in our house is English she has an excelent vocabulary .

    For the frist year we used just English. I didnt want to confuse her plus we was both working full time so she was in a day nursery 5 days a week from 7am till 3pm and my husband works away from time to time so this made things a bit harder.

    I left my job 4 months ago and i’m a stay at home mum now so i have the time to really start learning her Arabic. My Arabic is not grate so its not easy

    but we are both doing really well she now has an arabic vocabulary of over 100 words she is like a sponge and remembers new words so much better then me.

    my husband made us a book of arabic words with day to day things such as objects around the house, body part & foods and so on . we have started to bulid sentences now and she has started to ask questions like mama whats that in arabic she really seems to enjoy learning another language.

    My husband found research on childern learning another language and it says that the ability to learn another language decrease from the age of 7 years. so my advice would be to start your child as soon as possible.

  17. BK says:

    Thank you DevonT for your wise, helpful and experienced input!! I am a soon to be mother who personally loves to study foreign language for fun. I have always had a dream of raising my children to be at least trilingual.

    Thanks for your advice! =)

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