You don’t need to be bilingual to teach your child a second language, you need to be willing to do so and dedicate time each day to this task. A task that will only pay off.It takes time but you will see the results by the time your toddler is 3.
When should I start?
Ideally as a baby. You may think the child is only a hopeless newborn but I can guarantee you that the mind of your baby is aware of everything he sees or hears since the moment he is born.
I have seen this with my own daughter whom I can say was my own “Linguistic experiment”. I have a degree in languages and have always been fascinated with how we learn languages but you don’t need to have a degree in linguistics or philology , you don’t even need to be fluent in the langauge you want to teach your child for your little one to learn and make progress in a second language.
My daughter , who is still a toddler, was born in a monolingual family and since she was born I introduced her to a second language.When she was a baby , I was not sure if I was doing the right thing or if she was making sense of the two languages, then, by the time she turned 3 she started to speak fluently in both languages. She could speak in grammatically correct full sentences and she now has just as wide a vocabulary in both her mother tongue and the second language. So while her fellow 3 year old classmates can perhaps say a few colours and numbers in the second language, she can actually understand and fluently speak the language . Again, we are not bilingual or live in a bilingual environment at the moment . Having a bilingual family or living in a bilingual environment is way easier than for parents who have to put the time and effort in teaching their kids a foreign language.
This year, I have started to introduce my daughter to a third language but I will be able to write about this experience once I see some progress in one or two years time.
When will I see the fruits of my labour ?
Based on my own experience, I can tell you that initially you may see little progress but then one day, boom!, the toddler starts speaking fluently in both languages. Why? because since he was a baby you have introduced your child to the second language , his mind has processed it all in ways we can only marvel at . Their minds are just wonderful living beings that can absorb language even when they have no idea about grammar concepts or even what a language is. This is the reason why I believe children should ideally start learning a second language as babies or at a very young age as their learning will obviously be fun and grammar free.
Singing is the best way they learn a new language
When a baby is born there is nothing more soothing than his mum singing to him, so for the first year of the baby life sing everyday in both his mother tongue and the language you want your baby to learn. If you can’t speak the language yourself, then look for popular nursery rhymes in that language or ask a native speaker to give you a playlist and play them for the baby everyday. Kids learn by repetition so don’t worry about the baby getting bored. The mind is already working wonders.My daughter asks me to sing to her before she goes to sleep and even though I’m probably the worst singer ever , she loves it.
Books, flashcards, Story time
Buy age related suitable books and flashcards in the target language and read to the baby everyday, you may think he is distracted or doesn’t care but he is listening and absorbing it all.Be patient, he won’t speak his mother tongue till he is at least two so give it time for the second language too.
If you know the target language, speak to the baby and toddler in that language, if you don’t , try and get a native speaker who just speaks to the baby by playing with him. If this is not possible, then watch cartoons with him in that language. Accompany him as much as you can so you can explain things.
Toddlers learn better by singing, get them to learn really well at least three nursery rhymes in the target language, he will master them by age 3 . Then, once he knows a few songs and is used to listening to the language in his favourite cartoons, he will start speaking in sentences and pretty much understand everything he hears. If you can speak to him , again this is a bonus, but if you can’t because you don’t speak the language, don’t worry. By the time he comes into contact with the language either by meeting native speakers, he will be able to express himself confidently.
Make Screen Time Language Time
There is a lot of negative press towards screen time in children, I think that if what the child is watching is didactic and he is watching in the language you want him to learn, don’t worry too much about your child spending a few hours of the day listening to songs or watching cartoons in the target language. He is enjoying himself and learning while you also get some much needed time off!.
So start as soon as they are babies, if not, then start now. Children are fast learners and it is our responsibility as parents to facilitate their learning and provide then with the tools necessary for them to develop intellectually.