If you’re worried about how you can help your child learn English as a second language, the process might be easier than you think. Research shows that the types of parent-child interactions that help children learn their first language also help them acquire a second language. Here are five tips culled from speech language pathologist Lauren Lowry to help your child learn a second language.
Be responsive: “Children learn language as they interact and play with the important people in their lives on a daily basis,” says Lowry. “When caregivers are responsive during these interactions, children feel connected to them and are motivated to keep interacting.” Let your child lead the conversation and respond with interest and enthusiasm. Talk about what he or she is interested in discussing. In doing so, your child will pay close attention to what you are saying and is more likely to acquire new words.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“In order to learn language, children need to hear a lot of language”[/pullquote]
Talk often: “In order to learn language, children need to hear a lot of language,” says Lowry. “And for children learning more than one language, this means that they need a lot of exposure to both of their languages.” Experts recommend talking through everyday activities to increase the amount of English your child hears. Every activity is a learning opportunity. Talk about what you’re putting into your cart at the grocery store and what you’re going to cook. Read books together and point out what you’re seeing in the pictures. When you go to the doctor’s office, point out what the various instruments are called. Remember to follow your child’s lead so that he or she continues to be engaged in the conversation.
Use difficult words: When it comes to learning a new language, use common words as well as words your child might not hear every day. “When parents use a wide variety of words, their children tend to develop better communication skills later on,” says Lowry. Use the same word in different sentences to help your child start to understand its meaning. For instance, when dressing for the day, talk about the temperature outside. When cooking, talk about the temperature of the oven. Use new words in new situations to broaden opportunities to hear words they might not otherwise hear. Before you know it, their vocabulary will expand.
Use proper grammar: Don’t try to oversimplify your sentences or words or speak incorrectly; instead, use proper grammar and speak how you usually would to help your child understand. For instance, say “Daddy is making dinner” rather than “Daddy make dinner.” It’s also important to use new words as part of a sentence instead of on their own, as the sentence will help your child figure out the meaning. “For example, if the child just hears ‘freezer’ while you point to the freezer, the child doesn’t know if the word refers to the door of the freezer, the freezer itself or the food inside,” says Lowry. “But if he hears: ‘Let’s put the meat in the freezer. This will make the meat really cold so it will stay fresh. Then we can eat it next week when we want hamburgers again,’ this tells him that ‘freezer’ is the part of the refrigerator that is really cold. It also tells him that ‘freezer’ is a noun (the name of a thing) because there is already a verb in the sentence.”
Use your native language at home: When a child begins school or daycare, parents often ask whether they should start speaking English at home. The answer is no. “Parents should speak to their child in a language they are 100 percent comfortable with,” says Lowry. If parents aren’t fully fluent, they might not speak English well enough to teach their child. Also, communication with their child may suffer. Moreover, research suggests children risk losing their home language unless they hear it spoken often. “Learning a second language doesn’t mean abandoning the first language,” says Lowry. “It means providing enough exposure to both languages.”