I’ve always wanted to be bilingual. Even before I started traveling, I wanted to be able to unlock that secret code of another language.
Despite being decent at a few languages: like being able to read in French (nothing too difficult of course), or having casual conversations in Czech. They’re both difficult for me and I would not even dare to say I’m fluent, (at best I have decent vocabulary).
Once Andrew was born I was on a mission to make sure that he had at least 2 languages under his belt before he grew old enough to realize we were learning a second language (as much as a child can “master” two languages at a young age).
I thought a lot about what language we would learn- And I say “we” because it will be the both of us. I can’t expect to teach my son a language that I don’t know at all. I went from Spanish, which might be the easiest seeing as we live in Texas, to French, because I know a good amount, to German, because I’ve always wanted to learn.
We settled on Italian. I liked that it was a romance language, which might help unlock some future languages for him. We are also going to Italy soon and I wanted to be able to practice with him and have him possibly interact (again, as much as a one year old can interact) with his distant relatives.
How to Learn a Second Language Along with Baby
When I brought up my wish to others, I was surprised that I was met with concern.
Common Concerns when teaching a second language:
- You’ll delay his speech development
- You’ll confuse him
- He won’t be able to communicate with you
When in fact, learning a second language at an early age has the opposite affect most people believe.
Benefits of Learning a language when you’re young
- Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills
- Early Milestone Achievement
- Easier time learning more languages
I want the best for my kid. I try to feed him the best things. I do what I can to help him reach his milestones, so it was only fitting for me to want to teach him a second language.
While Andrew and I have a long way to go before either of us are fluent in Italian (I mean, he’s only say 3-4 words in English now at 9 months old.) But I’ve put together some advice and tips that I’ve gathered from my experience and from doing research of my own.
What to do:
1. Start now
The best time to learn a language is under age 6, even better if under 3. After this, the brain has changed and is not as receptive to learning a second language. You might feel that mastering English, before moving on to a second language might help. Not the case. Learning them simultaneously will help with flexible thinking.
2. Create a casual learning environment
Obviously we don’t need to sit our infant down in a desk and write out verb conjugation charts on a black board. All of the learning you do now is exactly like how you teach baby English. It should be fun, casual, and not stressful at all.
3. Teach one word at a time
Baby isn’t going to suddenly be fluent from watching an episode of Dora the Explorer. And you are also not going to remember all of the words if you just grab a dictionary and start spouting them off. Choose one word at a time until it becomes second nature to you. The better you are at saying something consistently, the better baby will absorb.
4. Have reasonable expectations
Like I said above about teaching Andrew Italian. I don’t expect us to just suddenly have full conversations in Italian. I know that even if I were to switch full-tim to Italian (which is obviously unrealistic), he’s still an infant. He sometimes calls me Dada (he calls almost everything Dada). Just know that this will take time and it’s going to be something you both work at for years to come.
5. Use the tools you use when teaching your child your first language
- Big gestures and physical demonstrations
- Have fun
- Engaging activities
- Find a few words you use often like “bottle,” “toy,” “play,” or “dog.” Use them in both English and the second language interchangeably, while gesturing or doing the activity.
- Find a few short sentences that you often use. “Let’s take a bath.” “Do you want to eat?” “Come here!” (If your baby is mobile). Say those in the second language, practice for your own pronunciation and memorization. The more you say it, the more you’ll remember it. The more baby hears it, the more he’ll pick up.
What else you should do
Get help from a native speaker
As fluent as you can be, you need to have your baby interact with someone who’s a native speaker. Not only will your baby hear the sounds that are more perfect than what you could do, but they’re also able to speak the facial and mouth movements that correlate to those sounds. This can’t be replaced with songs or tv shows. Real interaction uses much different parts of the brain and will be important for Baby.
Find media in another language
Yeah, I just said to get a native speaker. But you might not always have access to one. So in the meantime, watch tv shows, get used to how the words sound when spoken quickly, and learn a little about the culture of the country whose language you’re learning. Right now Andrew and I watch Geronimo Stilton on Netflix.
Foreign language books
It’s going to be a while before baby is actually reading, in any language, but seeing the words, the pictures that correlate will be good for both you and baby.
Extracurriculars in a foreign language
Some cities have camps, after school programs, or day programs in certain languages. Look at your local Facebook events or newspaper ads for similar groups in your area.
Best resources for learning
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