Help your Child Master Another Language

Global communications today require us to be educated in more than one language and linguistic studies show that the ideal time to learn a language is as early as possible from birth.

But how can we set our children on the path to bilingualism, enabling them to become equally comfortable and effective with two languages or maybe more?

Can Children Really Become Effectively Bilingual?

Research suggests children are more than capable of developing equal proficiency in a second language. It also tells us that acquiring a second language early stretches children’s thinking and expands their awareness.

Colin Baker, professor of Bilingual Education at the University of Wales and author of An Encyclopaedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, concluded that children should begin learning a second language as early as possible. The most optimum language learning years being from 0-6. From birth, a baby’s brain immediately starts to store the complex patterns that make up language. In this very early stage of life, the windows of language are wide open, ready to absorb everything they are exposed to. Beyond six years old, our ability to learn language decreases continuously, as anyone who has struggled to learn a language as an adult will understand!

Professor Baker believes that a child will not be confused by two languages as long as the two are separated initially. Children of about two and three years old are able to understand that they are using two distinct languages. However, we now know from research within the last decade that children can successfully learn two languages by hearing them both from one parent (De Houwer, 2007). This is because children ‘catch’ language from birth and more important than who is doing the talking, is the quality of vocabulary a child hears and the quantity of words they are exposed to. The quality of language a child acquires depends on the quality of their interactions with language providers, be they people or things, such as the television! 

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for children to become fluent in a language other than their parents’. At school for example. This happens frequently at Chiltern House Preschool when children want to fit in. A natural desire to be accepted by friends or within a group motivates them to learn and unlike adults, they are less likely to forget vocabulary and constructions learned outside the home.


What are the ideal conditions in which to learn a language? 

Motivation: When children want to express needs and desires to parents it motivates them to use language. Children also feel motivated to communicate when they want to fit in at school or with friends.

Interest: When children are engaged in enjoyable activities and games that are varied and hold their attention they learn sub-consciously. Young children have very short attention spans so it is important to keep activities short: Two to three year-olds – 5 minutes. Three to four year-olds – 10 minutes.  

Play: When children feel relaxed and happy they will enjoy the process of learning naturally. Creating a relaxed, fun-filled environment makes the whole process so much more enjoyable!

Great role-models: Whether parent, teacher or caregiver, the more positive and creative the language role-model, the more the child will feel inspired and become imaginatively involved. As they do, they will learn subconsciously. 

Positivity is key: Children require praise for effort, celebration of success and to be surrounded by plenty of joy and laughter in order to progress effectively and proficiently. Grammar or pronunciation mistakes do not matter!  It is important to avoid correcting mistakes negatively as this is most likely to lower self-esteem and may cause the child to clam up, avoiding future attempts to try out new language altogether. Instead, simply repeat the sentence back to the child, modelling the correct use of grammar or pronunciation. Over time, children will pick up the correct structure.

Music is the Foundation of Language

Babies are highly sensitive to the sounds and patterns of language. They absorb the sounds of the language they hear around them long before they are able to speak. This means they learn the rhythm and tune of a language before words and structure. Beat and melody form the foundation levels of language acquisition.

As parents and teachers we can build on this awareness by sharing and enjoying songs and rhymes with our children. Sing nursery rhymes, read verse, clap to the rhythm and let the tune help your child to learn a first or a second language.

Want your child to grow up bilingual? Here are some useful tips:

  • Keep all feedback relaxed and positive.
  • Be the best talking model you can be yourself.
  • Repeat what your child says so they hear it modelled back correctly.
  • Provide daily exposure to both languages you wish your child to speak.
  • Set language in a meaningful context. Talk about what your child can see or is doing .
  • Encourage and praise every effort.
  • Play with your child and talk about what you are doing together while you are doing it.
  • Read books and stories to your child from birth.
  • Read your child stories in a first and second language but keep to one language within one book. 
  • Avoid making your child repeat words or copy you! This is meaningless exercise that will only kill your child’s interest. 
  • Avoid mixing languages within the same sentence. Repeat the whole sentence in the other language.


To find out more on Chiltern House Preschool Programmes and Curriculum, feel free to contact us here.

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