Teaching Your Child A Second Language

If you are a bilingual family then this is the best opportunity for your child to learn a second language.

By Kumudam Berkin

Teaching Your Child A Second Language

While learning the first language, the child can easily grasp the second language and over time become an expert in both. I am a Tamilian and my husband is a Malayali. Our 4-year old daughter now speaks both Tamil & Malayalam quite fluently. Most of our understanding of the world comes from the words and the vocabulary we use. Learning a language has significant benefits. Toddlers have vivid imagination and can gain proficiency very fast. Research shows that there is a critical age for grasping a language in toddlers.

The critical period to learn language is 6 to 12 months. Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as baby language. Exposing your children to various languages at an early age enables them to learn by first grasping the sounds. They will also be able to identify the difference in sounds of various languages.

As a German language specialist myself, I can vouch for it that your perception of people and the world changes when you speak more than one language. Research has indicated that people who speak more than one language most often tend to outperform others. Children who grow up in bilingual families are known to perform better while in schools. This does not mean that monolingual families cannot teach their children a second language. This article talks about how you can start teaching your child a second language.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are some of the qualities your child will learn when learning a second language. Knowing a second language boosts creativity. Children are more accepting of people from different backgrounds and culture when they grow to be bilingual. This brings about mental flexibility in the child.

Role of parents

As parents if you have decided to teach your child a second language there are various strategies that you can use to make this process an enjoyable one. The second language can be taught the same way as the first language. The more the second language is spoken at home the easier the child will grasp it.

Here are a few methods you can use if you are either a bilingual family or a monolingual family:

1. Learning through repetition: Words and phrases when repeated are easier to learn and create memories of. Actively engage your child in both languages. For Eg. You could first explain something in one language and then repeat it in another language of your preference.

2. Gestures and Expression: Children are likely to comprehend any language when the language is taught through gestures, actions and expressions. They make associations with facial expressions and pictures.

3. Make the learning environment relaxing: No one can learn under pressure. Teach your child when he is interested and shows the desire to be engaged. At no point, should you force the child to speak in the language. This does not help the child develop a healthy relationship with the language being taught and in all probability, will hate it for the rest of his life.

Monolingual families can also teach their children a second language. Here’s how you can do it :

1. Let your child spend time with the native speaker: This helps the child to grasp small words, sentences and their nuances. Initially your child will try to imitate the sounds. After some time he will try to say those words. The best way to do this is to set up play dates with other children of similar age who speak different languages.

2. Audio and Video material: YouTube has a variety of videos which teach languages to children by using songs. Let your child view these videos .Set a routine for screen time and make sure you monitor what they are watching.

3. Language learning Apps: There are a number of apps that teach languages to little children, available online. There are apps that call out the words and let the learner repeat them.

4. Make language learning a parent-child thing: You might think that this process could take a lot of your time but the benefits are plenty. Your child will be motivated seeing you learn the language .Who knows, you could start conversing in a different language with your child.

So, enjoy the time you spend with your child while making him learn a new language. Please remember, the most important thing in this entire process is to have fun with your child.


The author is a professional German translator, interpreter, foreign language instructor for schools and visiting faculty for colleges and corporates.