50 ways to teach kids a second language
1 Get fairy tales, storybooks in the 2nd language online or your local library
Children love shared reading time and regardless of language acquisition, they will always remember the time they spent with you reading books. Try to find books with good illustrations. Look at the pictures with your child, point to things they already know in the 2nd language.
As you come across new words ask the child what they think it is. If it is illustrated, have them point it out on the page. Use different voices for different characters. If your child has a favorite story encourage him/her to play different characters making up the words from memory. Help your child to use his/her imagination to change the story or change the ending.
2 Use puppets or turn your child’s favorite plush toy into a puppet that talks the 2nd language
Kids love puppets and puppet play is great for motor skills. You can tell many loved stories through puppet play, either using the whole body or make a puppet theatre from a box and use hand or finger puppets. Finger puppets are also fun when singing songs.
3 Go to the zoo and call the name of the animals together in the 2nd language
If you have any, look at some animal books together, then go to the zoo for the day. Ask your child the names of the animals he/she has learned and point out the new ones. This is a great place to add in adjectives and colors, ‘look at the big, grey elephant, look at his long trunk’. When you come home, encourage your child to draw pictures of what he/she saw and talk about them together using the 2nd language.
4 Play hide and seek by counting in the 2nd language
Hide and seek is a great game for practicing numbers. You could start with 1 to 10 and gradually increase. When your child knows them well you could count down backward. When ‘seeking’ your child it’s a good opportunity to repeat words without it sounding repetitive. “Where are you?” “ Are you behind the sofa?’ “Are you behind the T.V? “ Are you behind the door?” Add in as much language as you think your child will be comfortable with and still keep the implicit fun of the game.
5 Play board games in the 2nd language e.g.: snakes and ladders, board games, family games
Dice games are always good for counting and also a simple addition. Board games played with the whole family can be a time for relaxed learning. Just playing a simple board game such as snakes and ladders teaches a young child so much more than just language. They also learn rules of play, understanding goals and of course, that family games equal FUN!
6 Play games by using flashcard games e.g.: Go fish, memory game
Flashcards are one of your most valuable resources in teaching language to young children. With multiples of the same cards, you can play well-known games such as Go Fish or the ‘memory game’.
Very small children may struggle to hold too many cards, so play games that have the child match one card to another. Matcha sound with a picture, or two cards that have the same sound, or two pictures that match, any way you choose.
Lay cards out on the floor or table and have your child touch the card as you call out words/sounds. Encourage your child to be the caller and you touch the cards. Keep it playful and fun.
7 Have a progress chart that tracks the words and phrases your child mastered
A simple progress chart teaches your child clear goals and kids love stickers. Let your child know when he/she is approaching a goal, make a big deal of reaching the goals, be excited to get the stickers out. Praise him/her for their achievement with a ‘great job’, a hug or a ‘high five’ (or all three).
8 Listen to children’s songs in the 2nd language together or reward your child for memorizing a short one
Listen to children’s songs in the 2nd language whenever and wherever you can. Keep CDs in the car or put a CD on quietly in the background when you are doing something else. Add actions to the songs, this helps kids remember the words. If it suits your child’s personality, encourage them to ‘perform’ songs for you. You could have a special ‘song night’.
Be the ‘emcee’; introduce your child to an imaginary audience with applause. You could take it in turns.
9 Listen to pop songs in the 2nd language together or reward your child for memorizing a short one
Teach your child some catchy pop songs that you both like. Something with suitable lyrics and a good chorus is easiest to remember. Sing it around the house as you do other things when your child tries to join in, model the language and encourage them to sing with you.
10 Find cartoons in the 2nd language on Youtube or Amazon
Cartoons are a great way to engage kids in the 2nd language. Kids can figure out the story visually without worrying about not understanding every word. It’s easy to buy DVDs from Amazon in almost any language or, alternatively, look for them on YouTube. Let your child guide you to which cartoons they like best. Watch them together and you will know which language to reinforce.
11 Have an annual/monthly goal checklist
Make a checklist of goals or ideas of where you want to be with the language learning over a year. Break it down into monthly mini-goals.
It will help you stay focused on where you are going and also a great way to look back and see how far you and your child have come.
12 Create youtube playlists or find playlists suitable for your child’s level
YouTube is a super resource. You can create playlists of your favorite language teaching videos, these days people post from all over the world.
They might be short tutorials, or craft ideas you can incorporate into your language learning, or children’s songs you can sing together. Look for playlists already put together by others with the same goal.
13 Join online support groups (forums, facebook pages, twitter lists, multicultural blog groups etc.)
Join some online groups to exchange ideas and information. Support is invaluable too. Language learning can hit some hurdles, it is important to be able to connect with people who are having the same difficulties or have successfully navigated these hurdles. Facebook and Twitter are great for immediate connections. Online chat groups or forums can give you a sense of community and common goals.
14 Visit the website of the ministry of culture (of a country where the language is spoken)
Have a look at the website and find interesting information about the country. Read about traditional food, dances, and costumes. Look at statistics such as population. Find some fun facts about the climate, holidays and customs. Talk about them with your child and follow their lead on which parts they are interested in.
15 Go to public libraries and check all the available resources in the 2nd language
Libraries are an excellent resource. If they don’t have things you are looking to ask the librarian if it is possible to order them. Also, check out the noticeboard and see if there are any kids groups speaking the 2nd language in the area. You might make some new friends too.
16 Make use of language learning DVDs for kids
There are a great many language-learning DVDs on the market these days. Check them out, Look for something that is specifically for kids, that uses games and songs and has well-structured levels.
17 Play CDs when driving your child to school
Always play CDs in the 2nd language when you are in the car. It could be songs or a kids’ language learning CD, whatever your child likes. Do it consistently so your child comes to expect the 2nd language in the car.
18 Play streaming radio in the background at home or make use of Spotify, Lastfm, etc.
Nowadays, there are a lot of resources that help you play streaming radio through personal electronic devices and laptops, etc. All you need is to tune into one of the local radio stations and have the radio or the song list play in the background all day long. Even if your child does not understand what has been spoken or the lyrics of the songs he/she will get used to the new sounds and intonation patterns.
19 Make use of worksheets for beginners
There are a great many websites offering worksheets for beginners. Many are free and some you can pay monthly or a yearly fee. Kids love worksheets. Some may be simple coloring sheets (kids LOVE coloring), or sheets that help fine motor skills through pencil manipulation. Buy some stickers and put one on each sheet your child completes.
20 Make use of Flashcards
There is no end to the fun to be had from playing games with flashcards even if your child is still too young to play a game that has structure and rules. You can make your own ‘games’ call out a card, have your child touch it/pick it up. ‘Hide’ the cards around the room and have your child find them and say what they are etc.
You can also put the flashcards up around the room. Change them each week in categories (animals/flowers/ fruit/etc. Look at them and say them often with your child. Ask them, “What’s this? / What’s that?”
Put them on your fridge with magnets or let your child do this. You call out the words and have them put them on.
21 Get a picture dictionary to get started
A Children’s picture dictionary is a wonderful resource. Follow your child’s curiosity about it. Let him/her choose what he/she wants to know on any given day. Ask him/her more information about the words they do know. “What color is it?” “ Is it big or small? “ “Where does it live?” “What does it do?”
22 Consider getting an alphabet book (especially useful in certain languages: e.g. Japanese, Arabic)
Introduce your child to the shapes of letters with a simple alphabet book. This is especially useful if the 2nd language alphabet is different from that of the 1st language. For young learners get a very simple, ‘starter’ book, also great for fine motor skills and pencil control.
23 Think about kinesthetic learning (learning by doing). Coloring books, sketchbooks or DVDs that children watch and dance are great!
The research is in that kids learn best by doing (don’t we all?).
Anything that gets kids moving their bodies or their hands helps them to learn. Watch DVDs together, makeup dances, put on ‘shows’, even dress up. Encourage your child’s inner artist with a sketchbook. Colour, paint, draw and talk about the colors and your child’s pictures in the 2nd language. Colouring in pictures is a very relaxing activity (you should do it too!) Kids tend to be very relaxed when they are coloring, a good time to make some general chitchat in the 2nd language.
Mix paints and talk in the 2nd language about how colors are made.
24 Consider getting a reading pen (only available in major languages)
The very latest translation tool. A ‘reading pen’ scans and translates. The translated text appears on a small screen on the pen and can also provide an audio pronunciation of words or full sentences.
25 Find some talking or singing plush toys
There are so many talking toys on the market these days. Try one that says greetings in the target language (or multiple languages) or one that sings traditional songs/nursery rhymes from the target country.
26 Make use of culture books prepared for little kids
Ready-made ‘culture books’ are great for learning about different countries. Read them together, ask questions and encourage your child to ask lots of questions too. After reading one, you could make a simple one together using pictures from magazines, or encourage your child to draw pictures too. Gather information together at the library or from the internet.
27 Decorate your child’s room with learning posters (colors, numbers) or pictures from the target country (flag, the cities, etc.)
Get some large colorful posters to decorate your child’s room or the learning space you use. Point things out and ask questions, swap roles and have your child ask the questions too, this also helps model the pronunciation. Ask which is your child’s favorite poster and why?
Follow their lead on the things that interest them.
28 Follow a simple syllabus prepared for kids
Use the simple syllabus prepared in your language learning system or make one yourself. Let your child know what it is so he/she can see what they will be doing. Children tend to do better when they know what is coming and what is expected of them.
29 Use stickers as rewards (stickers that say congratulations, wonderful, etc. in the 2nd language)
Kids love stickers! Use them liberally. Take praising your child as an opportunity to use the 2nd language. If you can find stickers with words of praise in the 2nd language use those and repeat the words a lot. Use a couple of words at first and add more as your child knows them.
30 Get some printed items related to the 2nd language: T-shirts, mugs, children’s silverware, etc.
If you have the opportunity to visit the 2nd language country buy goods with the language on. T-shirts, mugs, and pens are useful as well as educational. Look for postcards, posters or bumper stickers with popular expressions on. Post these around your house.
31 Arrange play dates or playgroups with other parents who want to teach their children the same language.
Try to find other parents encouraging their children to learn the same language, arrange to play together, go on picnics to the park or take a trip to a zoo or aquarium, great places to practice the language. Making new friends is of great benefit to you too!
32 Video chat with friends and relatives who have a child that speaks the 2nd language
Encourage video chat with other children you know, that speak the language. It’s easy using Skype or Google Hangouts or something similar. Be nearby to help the conversation along. Be encouraging and resist the temptation to correct your child’s mistakes.
33 Invite Grandma and Grandpa (who can speak in the other language) to stay over
Spending time with grandparents is valuable to all parties anyway but spending time with grandparents who speak the 2nd language is great for strengthening bonds and hearing natural language. Your child will come to associate the 2nd language with feelings of love and security.
34 Hire a short-term or full-time nanny or caregiver that speaks the 2nd language
If it is possible, consider hiring a nanny/caregiver/babysitter who speaks the 2nd language. Even a few hours per week would make a difference (and give you a little free time!).
35 Cook local recipes together with your child
Kids always want to be a ‘little helper’ in the kitchen. Cook some simple dishes from the 2nd language country together. Us the 2nd language for instructions, wash, cut, wipe, mix…. Name the ingredients in a natural way as you cook.
36 Go to community centers, cultural centers, and temples with your child
Local places of interest are stimulating for your child and cultural centers often have exhibitions or music/dance performances. Look out for anything from the 2nd language country. Community centers are a great place to meet people, look at notice boards for anything from people interested or connected in some way to, the 2nd language. You could even offer to do something yourself, give a talk about the country or a traditional dance etc.
37 Visit ethnic supermarkets and ethnic restaurants with your child
Go around an ethnic supermarket and point out the foods from the 2nd language country. If your child is unfamiliar with them, ask questions. “How do you think it tastes?” “ Do you think this is hard/soft/crunchy/sweet/etc.?” If possible eat in ethnic restaurants. Talk about the food, how it is prepared, where it comes from.
38 Have a word of the day activity
Pick a ‘word of the day’, you or your child could choose it, or have your child pick it at random from a pile of word cards. If the word is a noun, look for it around the house and when you go outside. Talk about where it might be found. If it is a verb, find ways to do the action either really or mime it, see if you can spot other people doing it? Or use adverbs and spend some time doing everything in the manner of the adverb, slowly/quickly/happily/etc.
39 Play online language games (memory, click&tell, etc.) with your child
There are plenty of free online interactive language games for children. Find one that appeals to your child and encourages them to do a little every day. You can check out 3 different kinds of free online language learning games here.
40 Try Skype lessons for children (may not be advised for infants and toddlers)
Many teachers are offering language lessons via Skype. Ask around and see if anyone can recommend a teacher to you. Sit in on the lesson too so you know what language to reinforce between lessons.
41 Read bedtime stories in the 2nd language to your child
Books, books, books. Kids love books and stories. Read stories in the 2nd language before bed. Often when kids have heard a favorite story many times they know the words. Encourage your child to help tell the story.
42 Play local children’s games (e.g. the local version of papers, rock, scissors)
Many children’s games are the same the world over, play kids game your child already knows in their 1st language but play it in the 2nd language. Paper, rock, scissors has many variations; play it in the 2nd language. Hopscotch, skipping games, clapping games etc. can all be played in any language. For more ideas have a look at the games in the different ‘countries and cultures’ at Dino Lingo (to the right of this post).
43 Get comic books & children’s magazines from overseas
Ask if a friend or relative overseas can send you comics or children’s magazines in the 2nd language. Children’s magazines usually have lots of fun facts in them that you can talk about and further research. They also have quizzes and puzzles that are lots of fun to do.
44 Go to a national parade of the target culture
You could try to find where there is a large community of people from the target culture. They will no doubt have special events to celebrate the holidays of their country of origin. Take your child to their parades and festivals.
45 Have a personalized notebook especially used for learning the 2nd language(Don’t forget to use it to have your child draw whatever you say in the 2nd language: e.g. draw a “ねこ”)
Let your child choose the notebook at the shop and decorate it any way they want to make it special. Say words in the 2nd language and have them draw pictures, or even write the word or the first letter, depending on what level they are at. Go back over the pictures every few days. Talk about the pictures and praise your child’s drawing skills.
46 Do local crafts (E.g. doing origami with a child who learns Japanese)
If you are a native speaker of the 2nd language think about the crafts you did as a child and do them with your child (think also about how happy you were doing this activity with your own mother/father or your friends). Don’t worry if you have forgotten how to look on the Internet to refresh your memory. Perhaps you could send something your child makes to grandparents or relatives overseas.
47 Use chatting apps (WhatsApp, Line, etc.) to talk with friends and family who have same-aged children
Chatting apps are mobile and easy to use. Chat with friends in the 2nd who have children about the same age. Encourage your child to chat with them and their kids too. Ask their kids about themselves, their day etc. and encourage your child to talk about themselves.
48 Sing lullabies in the 2nd language to put your baby asleep
Lullabies are so soothing for baby and parent. Sing some 2nd language lullabies to help your baby sleep. You can buy wind-up crib music at a baby store. Play the music and sing in the 2nd language. Establish is as a routine and enjoy the time to hold your baby and knowing you are soothing him/her.
49 Consider homeschooling by getting an online curriculum
More and more people are turning to homeschool these days and there are plenty of resources online. Do some research and find something that suits you and your child. Depending on the school hours where you live, it may be possible for your child to attend the local school and follow a homeschooling curriculum.
50 Send your child to a summer camp where he/she can study the 2nd language in a short time.
Summer camp is a great experience for children. It is often their first extended time away from home and a chance to make lots of new friends and try a variety of activities for the first time. ‘Language’ camps for kids usually incorporate study with lots of games/crafts/activities related to the 2nd language culture. Look online or on the notice board in community centers and other public buildings.
51 Try Dino Lingo, it has DVDs, storybooks, flash cards, song CDs, picture books, activities, games, culture books and a magic formula that will make every child happy!
Dino Lingo is a veritable treasure chest for the young language learner. It has everything needed to make learning a language a fun, interesting, positive experience for both child and parent/teacher.