Did you know that your kiddo’s young mind is wired to pick up new languages naturally?
Lucky them, huh! Us adults can have a tougher time getting a handle on new vocabulary.
This is why it’s ideal to introduce a second language early, even while they’re still learning English.
Giving your child a motivating, fun environment and activities to learn new words will help boost the cognitive milestones they hit in those early learning stages.
Let’s take a look at some easy-peasy ways to nurture your child’s second language development at home from bubs to 8 years old.
Play is the universal language of kids and plays (pardon the pun) an incredibly important role in helping your child learn new words and phrases. If you missed my article about play-based learning, I recommend checking it out over here.
Play helps develop listening skills, the ability to follow directions, develop vocabulary and social skills - like sharing.
Talk through what you and your child are doing during playtime, introducing new vocabulary along the way.
You can build play into everyday activities and create an opportunity to use the target language, making a game out of getting dressed, playing with different utensils when prepping food, or bath time. If you're looking for practical ideas on how to get started, make sure you get your hands on my free guide: How To Teach Your Kids a Second Language: Even If You're Not Fluent
In our weekly language lessons, I follow a step by step guide that includes a 30 minute play-based lesson plans in our Cultured Home programs designed specifically to develop language skills.
And P.S - we’ve received awesome feedback from parents about our lesson plans, so check them out!
This is a great activity to nurture the development of action words - and burn off extra energy!
Basically, you call out the action RUN! JUMP! CLAP! SPIN! in your target language and then do the action together. A good game to play outside.
The learning environment is called the third teacher in the Reggio Emilia approach to learning and creating a stimulating space at home where your kiddo can play is important.
Now, I love Pinterest inspo as much as the next mum, but you definitely don’t have to create a Pinterest-worthy playroom or space. It just needs to be simple and functional with a happy vibe!
Your space might include -
A mini library
A collection of a few age-appropriate books in the target language and a chair or bean bag to get comfy reading in.
A play area
This could be an area with a small table and a shelf holding toys that are sorted into plastic tubs.
You can label the tubs with images and words in English and the second language; for example Animals / Animali (Italian) for the plastic bin of farm animals.
Tools to create art
Keep an art caddy with basic materials for your child to do simple activities like worksheets for coloring, drawing and tracing words.
Through coloring, toddlers develop their fine motor skills, which is helpful when it’s time to learn how to write.
You want to create an inviting space that your child wants to come to - yep, this means it’s gonna need to be somewhere close to the action (ie - you) otherwise it won’t be used.
For bubs through to little toddlers, talking through what you’re doing, even though they won’t talk (coherently!) back, is important to give them as much language exposure as possible. Use the same sentences when doing routine activities like getting dressed.
If you’re a non-native speaker, translate the common words and phrases you need and begin to use them - your bub won’t be the only one learning a new language!
Oh my, there are so many awesome toys out there that can help you teach your child a new language. Here are a few tried and true favourites I love to recommend-
Toys don’t get much more classic than Duplo - Legos bigger brother. These blocks are great for freewheeling imaginative play and the chance to introduce new words to describe what your toddler is doing. The bright colours of the blocks are also perfect for introducing colours in the new language.
These animal figurines are brilliant for independent play and particularly for learning animal names in the new language.
Grimm’s blocks are gorgeous. These natural toys are well renowned educational toys used extensively in kindergartens and by speech and occupational therapists.
Activities with a clear beginning, middle, and end, are great too. Things like wooden puzzles, shape sorters, stacking rings, and simple sorting activities.
This is a tip for the older kids, 4 to 8 years. Putting labels on things they see regularly is a great way to help them memorise new words in the target language.
Label stuff like the fridge, mirror, furniture, appliances, electronics, and toys. If you’re not a native speaker yourself, this is a handy way for you to pick up new vocabulary too!
High repetition vocab drills definitely play a role in learning new words and phrases - the problem with repetitive learning activities though is kids can get bored of them really quickly.
Unless you make them interesting with super fun flashcards! That’s one of the reasons I created our Cultured Home illustrated flashcard packs, to bring awesomeness back to word ‘drills’.
Create a routine for learning time with flashcards, it might be 10 minutes in the morning after breakfast or at night before bedtime. You can show the card and make up sentences using the words that are relevant to your child.
If you or your partner are native-speakers, you can use one of the most common strategies for raising bilingual kids - the ‘one person, one language’ method.
Basically, each parent consistently speaks a different language to the child. You might speak native Spanish with your child, while your partner speaks with them in English.
This method is widely recognised as one of the best ways to teach a child two languages from birth because it ensures your child has regular exposure to both languages.
This is one’s for the native-speaking mamas. Set a time each day, the same time, where you only speak in the target language to your kiddos.
The idea is to have natural conversations, rather than structured lessons. It’s just you and them going about your usual activities but switching from English to the target language.
Non-native mamas, you can set up a specific daily time too, but it would be more lesson / activity-based, rather than just talking.
Video lessons / watching content in the target language is important for your child to get enough exposure to the native tongue if you don’t speak the language yourself.
I think car time is a great opportunity to play some videos on a device and keep your kiddos entertained and learning while you’re running errands - and is one of the main reasons we created our video language lessons - so you can play them on the go or at home!
Travelling overseas with your kids is an incredible learning experience for language exposure. But, if the budget doesn’t quite stretch to a paella fuelled family trip to Barcelona (*sigh) no worries!
It’s as easy as googling ‘cultural events / festivals in __________’ to find a festival celebrating another culture in your city.
Eating in a restaurant that serves traditional food or checking out museum exhibits that showcase cultures around the world is also a great way to create a cultural experience without jumping on a plane.
I hope these tips have started to get you excited about just what's possible with your kids and help you take that next step.
For practical resources and a plan to move forward week in and our, make sure you check out The Cultured Home + The Cultured Classroom - weekly language lessons that help you introduce a foreign language at home - particularly for those who don't speak the language themselves!
Simply fill out your first name and email address and within a few minutes you can be playing your way to fluency with your little ones!