You should be proud that your child is making an attempt to learn a foreign language, as this is a skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Don't worry if you do not know the language yourself; you can still play an important part in the child's learning process. It can even be a great opportunity for you to learn as well.
Get them acquainted with the traditions and customs of the foreign country. This includes the attire worn by the people, the festivals they celebrate and the food they eat. It will enable them to appreciate the importance of the language more. Check to see if there are any festivals, shows or local events that can be attended.
Break the learning down into three main areas: oral, written and verbal. At each stage, there are many useful things you can do to expose them to the new language and help them get a quicker grasp. Let's check out each of these below:
Various kinds of audiotapes and books are available as linguistic aids. You can start off with the beginner level tapes where the speech is recorded very slowly to help the child to comprehend what is being said. Once they improve you can get them to read aloud. Language videotapes are even better since the child can see what is being talked about; their mind makes a faster connection between pictures and the words they hear.
Other ways to enhance children's listening skills is to get them to watch movies. Make sure that it has subtitles in their native language, else they might be completely lost and the exercise will be a waste.
Music is also an effective teaching medium; expose them to simple songs written for children for the purposes of learning. It will help if you can get the translated version of songs in the language that they already know; the familiar melody will keep them interested in listening to the song. Or you can be creative, take one of their favorite songs and get it translated into another language.
Learning a new language is easier if it uses the same alphabet set that the child is used to reading and writing in. A good example of this is English and French, although the accents will be new in the case of the latter. On the other hand, a child who understands English and is trying to learn Russian will have to put in more time and effort in because the language is completely new. There are many words in the French language that are in fact similar to the English equivalent and could be guessed without having heard the word before.
For example: musicale and musical or omelette and omelet
Another great tip for helping your children improve their written understanding is to get them to sign up for a penpal who is fluent in the language they are learning. This is a bit of an old tradition but rather than exchanging letters they can exchange emails, which are much quicker and will speed up the learning process. They will get a chance to talk to real people about real-life topics in a new language. This also allows them to move away from a formal speech style taught in textbooks to one that is actually used in daily life.
It is easier to learn to read and write in a new language, but speaking it is the toughest of all. The child is not used to the new sounds that their tongue is expected to produce; this often makes them shy away from trying but persistence and encouragement are key. The most effective way to learn a foreign language is to visit the country and encourage participation with locals even if it is just a few words to start with such a hello, good bye, good morning and good night.
If cost is an issue then you can get creative and have night in at home dedicated to the particular country. For example, if you are trying to help your child learn Spanish then have a Spanish themed evening with decorations, traditions, flags, and food. At the beginning your can encourage repetition by referring to an object or piece of food in the child's language and getting them to pronounce the equivalent in Spanish.
Take every opportunity to get them to speak the new language, as this is where the real gains in term of fluency and understanding will happen. You could get them to join a language club at school or meet up with friends who speak this language. Dining at a specialty restaurant where this is the primary language of the chefs and waiters is also a good idea; encourage your children to read the menu and place the order. Explain to them that it is ok for them to use the wrong pronunciation in the beginning or to take extra time in framing their sentences before they speak. They will definitely improve with continued practice over time.
Experiences and Cultural References:
When learning a foreign language, children tend to lose focus quickly but keep them encouraged by constantly spending time with them and coming up with creative ways to learn. Be open to trying new or different techniques, remember not every child learns in the same way. Learning a new language can be the most exciting adventure your child has had, provided you make it fun for them.
Jennifer Baracho is currently a writer for how2become.com, a multi-linguist and enjoys traveling to explore new cultures and languages. She has years of experience in educating children of all ages and loves teaching French and Spanish.