There are a lot of studies out there that suggest that young children’s minds are prime for absorbing a second language.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that teaching your young child is going to be simple or without any challenges.
Then again, nothing worthwhile is ever going to be easy.
And raising children with a second language will be extremely worthwhile.
So, when should you start teaching children another language? What is the best way to go about it? How can you tell if your efforts are having results or are you just frustrating your children and yourself?
These questions most commonly come up in homes in which one of the parents speaks a second language. However, all the benefits of multilingualism mean that many parents want to encourage it in their children (even if they’re not native speakers themselves).
What are the Benefits of Knowing a Second Language?
As children start to learn a new language, you may start to recognize some other changes in them, too. There have been a lot of studies on people who speak multiple languages over the years, and they all suggest that there are a number of important benefits to speaking more than one language.
These benefits could include:
- Better learning skills – Learning a language requires motivation and discipline. These traits can then contribute to better listening, reading, and writing skills.
- Cognitive benefits – Many multilingual children show better planning and decision-making skills along with the ability to be more perceptive and empathetic.
- Better memory – The earlier a child starts flexing these memory muscles, the more efficient that memory will become.
- Multitasking abilities – The ability to keep two or more languages in their brains makes multilingual children more prepared for multitasking in the future.
Immersion Is Key
Since children probably won’t have a lot of exposure to the Arabic language with their friends, or at school, or during daycare, it is going to be a challenge to create the necessary immersion to really help a child adopt the new language.
So, one of the most important things to do is to help them find ways to make the new language a part of their everyday lives at home.
Surrounding them with opportunities to hear or use the second language can be extremely beneficial. You don’t need to force them to watch a movie in Arabic. Sometimes, you can just leave the DVD cover laying around and, if it looks fun to watch, they’ll naturally gravitate toward it.
Find the fun shows and movies that you can watch together again and again (repetition is always necessary for a new language). Play games and let them know these are particularly cool games because if they can win in the secondary language, it’s even a greater victory.
You may even sing some of their favorite songs around the house in the new language.
The most effective way to immerse someone in a new language, though, is to connect with native speakers. If there isn’t one in your home or in your neighborhood, there is always something that can be done in online Arabic classes for kids.
Make Learning Fun
If your children aren’t immediately picking up the language, don’t try to force the issue. A rigid structure at home can help a child learn, unless that’s not their preferred learning style.
We have found that using play with our lessons makes learning enjoyable and children – even very young children – find new ways to have fun with Arabic and have a sense of accomplishment when they can show off the new words or sentences they’ve learned.
What to Avoid
As you work with your child to develop their language skills, there are a few things that need to be avoided.
- Don’t judge how well or how fast they acquire the second language. They may be learning more than you realize. It’s just a matter of helping them find a way to use the new language confidently.
- Don’t make it work. For you or them. Make the process as natural as possible. Engage them with fun activities instead of putting out flashcards and expecting their memory skills to impress you at every turn.
- Don’t get frustrated if they start mixing the languages. Sometimes, they may find it easier to express themselves in one language or the other. They’ll start to understand the differences in time.
- Don’t leave the other parent out of the equation. If only one of you speak the second language already, it can start to feel like you and the child are sharing a special thing. Have the other parent learn along with the child if that’s what it takes. Just make sure everyone is on board with this goal.
- Don’t stray from the plan. If you’ve chosen a teaching method that involves one parent always speaking the second language to the child, stick to that plan as closely as possible. If the only TV you watch must be in the second language, then no cheating on that either.
Perseverance is The Other Key
Children are, by nature, a very curious bunch. So much so that it’s hard to keep them focused on any one thing, and they may seem completely uninterested in learning a second language.
If this is the case, and you don’t have enough support in your endeavors, it may be all too easy to take the easy route and give up on raising multilingual children.
This is a very understandable frustration.
But if you really want to help your children experience the benefits of being multilingual, it’s going to take some perseverance on your part.
That doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own, of course.
At Arab Academy, we have programs that are designed to make learning Arabic fun. We can be your support system in this endeavor, guiding your children through the language learning process using stories, games, and fun activities.
Raising multilingual children may be frustrating at times, but if you can persevere, you can give your kids a great gift that will benefit them the rest of their lives.