Learning a second language can have a lot of advantages, especially in our incredibly interconnected modern world. It provides opportunities to share ideas and opinions in business or simply to make new friends. However, learning a new language can be very challenging and many late-life language learners may be at a disadvantage.
To give our children the best opportunities later in life, parents are encouraged to provide them with knowledge of a second language at an early age. Early language learning while we are young children is generally most beneficial and has been proven to be the best way to retain proper grammar and pronunciation skills as early learners’ minds are impressionable enough to easily accept this new language as a part of their core developmental skill set. As adults, we recognize the value in learning a language but our busy schedules often get in the way.
The same challenges apply to high school students. Just as it is hard to imagine what it feels like to go swimming if you have never been, it can be difficult for a high school student to see the benefit and impact a second language will have to improving one’s life. High school students are committed to so many different social, academic and personal spheres and are often saturated with new opportunities and potential pathways. As such, true passion for a required subject (as foreign language classes often are) takes a lot of personal motivation. There are many who do fall in love with a second language in high school – and these students, who may not get regular chances to apply and practice their new-found skills, need reasons to learn, reasons to be curious.
As parents, we must give both young and older children insight into foreign cultures, foreign sights and sounds and let their insatiable childhood curiosity be the relentless engine driving their language learning vessel. Travelling with family can be a great motivating factor for learning a second language. Allow your children to explore aspects of the foreign culture that correspond to their innate interests and passions. Instead of being their guide and trying to force them into learning basic vocabulary right out of the gate (which can be tedious), allow them to be their own guide and explore their interests.
Meeting interesting people or taking part in a foreign event like a sport, or youth group, or other community event can be a great impetus for further interest. In addition, one way to harbor a nurturing environment for language practice over the course of several years when immersion is not an option, is to have a consistent “pen” pal so that the child can get excited about learning and look up new words as they are necessary for conversations they are having.
As children get older, it is important to encourage and help them identify the self-motivating factors for themselves. The important thing to note here is that parents’ motivating factors may wildly differ from their child’s motivating factors. If you can help them realize their own motivation for learning a language (which may change and develop over time), and continue to provide practical outlets for practicing and nurturing their new skill, they will undoubtedly have the capacity to learn and retain their second language as they transition to adulthood.
Tim Johnson is the author of several dual-language children’s books designed to teach young children new words and phrases using fun, wholesome bedtime stories. His fourth book “Bosley Builds a Treehouse” is set to be published in late 2013 and encourages themes of teamwork and friendship while allowing for easy language learning. His books are currently translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. They include contextual learning, labelled illustrations, line-by-line translation, and highlighted corresponding words. For more information visit: www.theLanguageBear.com