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Young children have a fantastic capacity to learn languages. During those tender, formative years kids, like sponges, soak up and retain information at an amazing rate.
Couple a child’s ability to quickly learn more than one language with the recent trends toward globalization, and you’ve got every reason to invest in your son’s future. Being bilingual or even multilingual opens professional doors and increases earning capacity in today’s diverse job market. While English still serves as the world’s trade language, others are quickly stealing some of the market share. An English or French speaking manager who also speaks Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, or Arabic offers a unique set of tools that not every candidate possesses.
Now that you’re sold on the importance of offering your daughter a brighter future by introducing her to a second language early on, let’s consider some tips that will help you in this journey. Don’t wait until their already putting on the school uniform to start giving them tools to succeed. Their practical education in languages naturally begins long before their formal education does.
Start as Soon as Possible
Shortly after birth provide opportunities for your child to hear the second language. If you speak another language, alternate from one to the other throughout the day so he can hear the different sounds and structure of both idioms.
Let them hear music or watch television programs in the second language. Read to them—or get someone else who can—in the other language. Any media that will help them visually recognize, hear, or speak so that they will quickly become bilingual is valid.
With an ease never before seen, mobile applications provide fun and exciting opportunities for little ones to learn new vocabulary every day. The abundance and relative low-cost of online tutors take away any and all excuses for any parent who only speaks their native tongue.
Don’t wait on the public education system to do what you can. Provide the ones you love the tools they need for a solid bilingual foundation before they ever get to the classroom. Because of the time intensive nature of achieving a comfortable level in a foreign language, you should teach them early and often.
Later, after they begin school you might want to find a local language institute or an in-home native speaker to tutor your child. Again, starting sooner is better than later. No time is better to begin than today!
Establish a Routine
A few years ago I met a Portuguese man who had several kids. Though he lives in Portugal and raises his children to be Portuguese, he began at a super early age speaking to them exclusively in English. At home as well as in public, he interacted with his kids in English. As a young boy he spent four years in the United States, and as an adult he understood the value of being bilingual. He reasoned that growing up in Portugal, the kids would learn Portuguese easily. They would be taught in Portuguese in school, interact with their friends in Portuguese, learn to read in Portuguese and so on.
Unless he established a routine to teach them English, it would be a daunting task. So, he was intentional. Don’t worry if you don't have the same vision or ability that my Portuguese friend had.
Find ways to establish a routine that works for you and stick to it. Be firm in the face of cultural opposition, knowing that you’re providing a culturally rich future for your kids. Others may not understand what you’re trying to do. Some may not agree with your goals. Let those criticisms roll away like water off a duck’s back.
I was on an international flight recently and half-way through the eight-hour trek I noticed a mother sitting near me with her toddler. She was using her cell phone as a modern flash-card system to drill vocabulary words in a foreign language. It was a challenging game for both of them. Mom was taking advantage of the time she had with her youngster to teach him. They laughed and giggled when one or the other made a mistake. I could see the two of them bonding while most of the other kids vegged out on the in-seat monitors.
Encourage Them to Use Both Languages Equally
I remember the first time that we asked our kids to speak in their non-native tongue in a public place. Our kids were young, but one had an absolute existential crisis. If we started speaking the “other language” more and more, “I might forget how to talk to Nanny,” she reasoned. That night I relented for the other customers’ sakes, but now we encourage our kids to use both languages they know equally.
You want to teach your kids to read, write, and speak in a second language so they can truly reach a native or near-native level in both tongues. Giving preference to one or the other will subconsciously teach them that to rely on one or the other. They will lack balance and always defer to their strengths. Like footballers train for hours and hours for their left foot to be as adept as their naturally dominant right, a certain level of balance is important in linguistics.
Before you know it, if you follow these simple tips, those little feet pitter-pattering through your house will be singing children’s songs from their grandparents’ country. They’ll drift off to sleep reading in one language and wake up having dreamt in another. Their ability to express themselves will climb to an entirely different level compared to their classmates and colleagues. Their appreciation for another culture will allow them to more fully appreciate the culture of their birth country.
Raising bilingual kids isn’t as difficult as it might initially appear. You’ve got to be intentional. You’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to be a little bit creative. However, later on your kids will thank you for the opportunities you afforded them at such a young age.