Choosing to teach your child a second language is a decision you should make as early as possible. As we age, our capacity for learning langauge diminishes significantly. If you've chosen to teach your child a second language, these tips can help you make your journey more successful:
1. Introduce the second language at birth or as soon as possible. Babies have an unbelievable capacity for learning, and the sooner they hear your voice speaking the language, the better.
2. If both parents speak the second language, they should speak it consistently at home. Parents should also help with pronunciation and correct any errors in speaking.
3. If one parent speaks the language, he/she should speak it exclusively.
4. Be patient. Some bilingual kids take longer to begin speaking, but soon catch up. If your child needs extra help, there are online resources that can help your child learn another language. It would also help if your child's caregivers were helping with your efforts.
5. Be confident. Research shows benefits and no deficits associated with exposing kids to two or more languages. Your decision will likely benefit your child for years to come.
6. Be positive. Kids’ feelings about the second language will be shaped by the parents’ attitudes. If you get discouraged, you may need to dial back the learning a bit until both parent and child are comfortable with the level of language.
7. Be creative. Read books, watch videos, set up pen-pal relationships in the second language. Cartoons can be especially effective. Dora The Explorer, Caillou, Madeleine, and other cartoons can help even the youngest of children pick up words and phrases in different languages.
8. Enlist grandparents or other family members who can insist kids speak the second language with them. Consistency is extremely important.
9.Connect your child with other kids who speak the second language – in playgroups, after-school programs or bilingual schools. Having a partner to practice with is great.
10. Use the your area's diversity. Visit neighborhoods, eat at restaurants or attend cultural events where the language is spoken.
11. If possible, travel to regions where the second language is spoken.
12. Parents who do not speak a foreign language (even those who do) and want to foster bilingualism should consider language immersion schools as one of the best ways to raise bilingual children.
-By Noelle Salmi
Noelle Salmi is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She speaks Spanish at home with her two daughters.
Updated August 2012