5 Steps to Make Sure Your Child Is Getting the Most Out of Their Language Classes
What They Learn In Class Is Not Enough
Do you remember your language learning days at school? Hot afternoons staring at the teacher while reciting paradigms that didn’t make much sense? Or in more recent times, being taught a set sentence then being asked to say it to your partner, who probably was just as bored as you were and would just mumble back an answer before you turned to more interesting gossip?
Surprisingly, this does not lead students to become proficient at languages.
Having had my fair share of experience learning and teaching languages, here are some steps you can takeat home to prepare your child and make sure they are getting the most out of their language learning.
The first step which is important in introducing a child to a language (and not used really at all in schools) is to let them listen to it. A lot. Before anything else. And let them just be silent. Don’t expect your child to be reproducing the target language after a week, or even a month.
So, if you know they are going to be starting a new language at school, order some cartoons off the internet in that language and sit down together to watch them for an hour a day during the holidays. There are also hundreds of great podcasts they can listen to while on their way to school or while doing chores. Even as they begin to start speaking, let them keep listening more than they do anything else.
Second, once they are starting to speak you need to encourage them to use the language all the time, in lots of different situations. For example, put stickers up around the house so they can learn everyday life vocabulary. And if you are feeling really mean (or think they are doing pretty well) you can even change over their computer settings so the computer is in the target language. They will quickly learn what words mean when they need to navigate their way to YouTube.
Third, they need to learn not to be afraid to reproduce and practice. Two great ways to do this is first to connect them with a pen pal from a school in that country learning English. Encourage them to use tools like Google translate to help them as write emails as they develop. Second, take them along to community meetings for that language group. Even if you can only take them to the local Chinese takeaway where the waitstaff are happy to practice simple conversations on less busy nights. Just make sure they are not criticized for mistakes but encouraged to keep trying.
Fourth, do not underestimate rote learning. As they are not going to be hearing the target language for 8 hours a day, they generally won’t get the exposure to the repetition of words necessary for memory formation. Therefore, a regular amount of time needs to be dedicated to memorisation. Having said that, the old formula of write out a vocab list, cover it and write it again isn’t necessary the best way to go.
Two improvements you can easily make to this system is first learn phrases not individual words (I can still remember how to say ‘the general looses the horse’ in Ancient Greek, which admittedly is not the most useful phrase, but it is Ancient Greek after all). Second, instead of just trying to memorise the words or phrases by staring at them, work with your child to make up silly images to associate with the word with English. Encourage them to play with the sentence and feel totally comfortable adjusting it to their needs.
Finally, you need to demonstrate to your child that learning this language is important and something fun. If you practice with them, asking them questions and getting them to reply, not being afraid yourself to try out new sentences and ask them if they think it is correct, they will grow a lot more confident. Take the time to read together and help them with their homework. Without your support, they will be less likely to want to learn the language in the first place. And just think what a great opportunity it is for you to learn something new!