Expat Life

How to support your child’s language learning

By Joyce Aernouts, TEFL

Language is important – so important, in fact, that it is considered a vital part of what makes us humans

Language is how people communicate, ask questions, share ideas and feelings, and build relationships. 

That doesn’t mean language learning comes easy. It’s a complex process that requires lots of practicing. Luckily, there are several ways to help your child’s language learning journey. 

Talk

This one seems obvious, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning specifically. 

Children learn language by listening to the people around them and mimicking the sounds they hear. The more you talk, the more your child hears and learns. Talking can be just as easy as narrating your day. Talk about what you see on your daily walk, describe what you’re making for dinner, or explain everyday tasks like getting dressed for the day. For example, “first we will put on our underwear. Next are socks. You have two socks, one for the left foot and another for the right foot. Do you want the yellow shirt or the green one? Okay, and now we put on pants. Put your leg in this hole. Good. Now put your other leg in this hole.”

If you’re running out of inspiration, or you’re just sick of talking to yourself with no answer, you can also turn to the words of other people: books. Reading books together is a great way of entertaining your child while also improving their language skills. Bedtime stories are perfect for this. 

Repeat

Language learning takes time. Whether your child is learning to speak for the first time or learning a second language, repetition is a big part of learning. You can help them by saying the same thing over and over again until they start to repeat the sentence themselves. Children need to hear words many times before they can mimic and understand the meaning of the word. You’ll probably feel a bit silly repeating the same thing over and over again without getting a response, but just remember this is a crucial part of language learning. 

Follow their lead

Does your child show interest in boats or a bunny? Build on that. Take them to the dock to watch boats. When they point and say “boat”, repeat back to them “Yes, big boat.” or “Yes, yellow boat.” 

Or why not try a visit to the petting zoo to see the bunnies? Take the opportunity to talk about the other animals in the petting zoo. Repeat their name over and over again as your child interacts with them. This allows your child to make a visual connection to what they are hearing. 

Don’t criticize. 

Learning a language is hard and your child will make mistakes. Don’t point out the mistakes and correct them. This can lead to anxiety and fear of error. Instead, show them that you understand what they’re trying to say and repeat it in the correct way. For example, when your child says, “I am huggy,” repeat back to them “Yes, you are hungry.” Give your child praise for when they get it right. 

Keep your eyes open for learning differences

As a parent, you’re probably watching them like a hawk to see if everything goes “according to schedule”. However, every child has a different development journey in their early years. Some learn new things quickly; others need a bit more time. Don’t stress over it too much if your child needs a bit more time, but it is a good idea to keep an eye out for any possible learning differences

The easiest way to spot learning differences is by comparison with older siblings or family. Playdates with friends of the same age can also provide useful information. If you suspect your child might have some trouble with learning, don’t batter them with questions and self-assessments. Ask regular things like how their school day was, if they had fun with their friends and learned something new that day. You never know if something comes up in those lighthearted conversations. If you continue to have suspicions, it might be time to involve a teacher to get to the bottom of it. 

Go abroad

Want to take it to the next level and raise your child bilingual? Children soak up language like a sponge and it is much easier for them to learn a second language than for adults. Moving abroad, whether for love, work, or something else, can help your child become multilingual. Erin McGann did just that. When she moved to Germany with her husband and son, none of them spoke German. She enrolled her son in a bilingual school, and it has been a great success. You can find an article written by Erin about her family’s experience on the ISP website.

What about you? What will you do with your new life abroad? One of the easiest and rewarding ways to use your time is by becoming an English teacher. Teaching English as a foreign language, also known as TELF, gives you the opportunity to teach English anywhere in the world. All you need is a TEFL-certification. For example, what about teaching English in France? Here are some best Teach English in France guides and what your life could look like. 

Language learning is always tricky, whether your child is just trying out their first words or tackling a second language. That said, there are several things you can do as a parent to help your child along, though. 

First and foremost is talking. Describe everything you do and see around you and let your child mimic you. With talking comes repeating. Children need to hear words and sentences many times before they start to use them themselves. Include talk and conversation in all aspects of your life and keep your child enthusiastic by including their favorite activities. 

Also keep in mind to never criticize your child’s mistakes but teach them by saying the correct words. 

Finally, are you ready to take it to the next level? Living abroad is a great way to learn a new language. 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04ykk50

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