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How To Teach Your Child a Second Language – Even if You Don’t Know One!

Updated on July 3, 2008

How Can I Teach My Child a Language I Don't Know?

A growing body of research suggests that exposing your child to a second language while they are young enhances their overall language development in the long run. Still, many parents aren't sure how to begin because they don't speak a second language. What follows are ways you can help your child learn a second language even if you don’t know one yourself!

Expose Your Child to Native Speakers of the Language

If you hire a nanny or babysitter, look for someone who is fluent in, or even better, a native speaker of the second language. Ask your help to speak to your child exclusively in the second language, even if the baby is too young to talk.

Many daycares and preschools now cater to the growing demand for second language learning. When you are shopping around for preschools, look for immersion opportunities, or at least program offerings that your child can opt into.

Language Books & Books with Audio CD Narration

Many of your child’s favorite characters (Thomas the Train, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street) have books published in different languages. If you have an ear for the language and can handle some of the pronunciation (it does not have to be perfect to be beneficial) then go for it! Incorporate reading in the second language to some part of your daily routine.

If you are daunted by the idea of trying to read in a foreign language, or are concerned you might butcher the pronunciation, you can also get books that come with CDs that narrate the story for you. This way, you can share the language experience with your child and learn the pronunciation for yourself as you read along with them. (I am going to do some research on some offerings for a few languages and will post some links in a later update).

Alternate Language Audio on DVDs & Cable Television Services

Any DVD you buy will list the alternate audio languages available on the back of the DVD. DVDs available for purchase online will often list this information as well. Make a policy of only buying DVDs for your child that offer the second language audio option you are looking for. Then, when it comes time to watch a show, you can set it to play in the second language. The more consistent you can be with this, the better.

Also, most cable and satellite services provide channels in alternate languages, so check out what your options are with your provider!

Fun & Games Online

Any character your child is enthusiastic about seems to have a website dedicated to them these days. What is even better is that these sites are often available in many different languages. You can usually find a link to these web sites off of the English site you may first be directed to from a search engine. Sometimes there will be flags across the bottom of the page that you can click on to take you to the corresponding web site for that country. If you cannot find this easily, click on the “contact us” link and ask if they offer the site in your language of choice and if so, what the web address is for that site.

Do not underestimate the value of these often free web sites. Most offer interactive learning games that will capture your child’s attention and they will learn the language while having a lot of fun. Some of these websites have fully animated guided readers who provide complete phonemic and syllabic breakdown of words.

Talking Toys & Games

Many famous cartoon personalities have been converted into toys that speak phrases in foreign languages and developmental toys are available in abundance to enhance language learning. Magnetic letters, computer software games, talking dolls and even karaoke cds in multiple languages are all ways to make learning fun.

Music as a Teacher

Delightful music cd’s for children come in all languages. Even if you and your child don’t understand the words, you can enjoy dancing and signing along to the music. The more a child hears a language, the better. Further, the fun they associate with getting to dance around with you while they listen will help them develop positive associations with the second language overall.

Get Started!

The language learning tools are out there, so get on it! You don’t need to be an expert in the language, simply serving as a facilitator for exposing your child to the language is helpful. So go ahead and give your child a multilingual start on life!


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    • Marktravels profile image

      Marktravels 8 years ago from Ukraine

      Many parents are looking for this kind of advice, great tips.