Bilingualism benefits children in myriad ways. For example, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that bilingual children have a higher vocabulary range than monolingual kids. In addition, a review published in the Review of Educational Research found that bilingual students typically have stronger working memories and attention spans than their monolingual counterparts.
The benefits of bilingualism are undeniable, but learning a foreign language can be challenging. However, that challenge could be less significant for youngsters. Though there are different theories regarding why children seem to learn languages more readily than adults, Dr. Eleonore Smalle of Tilburg University in the Netherlands indicates that adults tend to translate from their first language when trying to learn a new language. In an interview with the United Nations in Western Europe, Dr. Smalle said that adults’ attempts to adopt language rules they already know results in a “less stable consolidation of the new language into memory.” Children, on the other hand, unconsciously implement the new language rules and even use newly acquired words in everyday life. That, Dr. Smalle says, benefits long-term memory consolidation.
It’s important to note that researchers, including Dr. Smalle, feel that children may find it easier to learn a foreign language up to adolescence, at which time their conscious memory begins to develop more strongly. So parents who want to help their children learn a foreign language have a relatively long window of time to get that ball rolling before kids could find it more challenging. Parents also can try some additional strategies to help kids learn a foreign language.
Bring lessons home from the classroom. Children learning a foreign language in school or via a private tutor can be encouraged to bring those lessons home and continue to develop those skills in a fun way. Play games in a foreign language at home on family game night. Young children just beginning foreign language lessons can be encouraged to count to 10 when playing hide-and-seek at home.
Shop for groceries in a foreign language. When grocery shopping with children in tow, parents can point to foods around the store and ask kids to say each item in the foreign language they’re learning. Make a list before going to the store and reward kids who name all of the items on the list with a special treat at checkout.
Read books in the language the child is learning. This could be tricky if parents are not bilingual. However, in that scenario, reading books to children in a foreign language provides a great way to reverse roles and let children teach their parents everything they’ve learned from their teachers or tutors. Keep stories simple and even seek recommendations from teachers or tutors.