As a kid, the extent of my foreign language speaking ability was counting to ten in Spanish and, thanks to Christina Aguilera, “vou le vou coucher avec moi.” Not the most well rounded childhood.
Maybe it’s my millennial style mothering, but is it ambitious to want my two-year-old to be fluent in another language?
Luckily, with technology as advanced as it is, there are countless options for learning languages. Here are 5 simple steps to get your little bébé fluent in Français… or whatever language you choose to teach her.
1. Start Young
The younger you start her the better. It is easier for a very young child to pick up a new language quickly because she has less to learn. I mean think about it, we are born with very little on ourto do list:
- Learn to hold something
- Learn to walk
- Learn to communicate with the food provider
The truth is, research shows that young children learn faster than adults for multiple reasons:
- With less responsibilities, a young child can use more brain power to learn the new language.
- Young children haven’t developed a heightened sense of self-conscious yet, so they don’t hold back on speaking the new words in fear of being teased if they mess up.
- Children use simple sentence structures. They don’t try to communicate eloquently, they just want to communicate. Because of that, they have less words to learn to get their point across.
Perhaps the most fascinating reason is the scientific one.
- A two-year-old has twice the amount of synapses as an adult.
According to Dr. Paul Thompson, a neurology professor at UCLA, after age 11, language acquisition becomes more difficult because the areas of the brain responsible for it stop growing at a rapid pace.
Dr. Susan Curtiss, a professor of linguistics at UCLA explains, “They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity.”
If you speak another language, this is the best place to start. Speak as much of that language to your baby, as often as possible.
If you are not one of the 25% of Americans that can hold a conversation in another language, the good news is, you can throw a stone and most likely find someone who can. But if not, we can always do what our parents did… hire an au pair who can whisper sweet words that we don’t understand into our baby's ears.
Repetición. Repetición. Repetición.
Repetition is key. In fact, there is a method called The Spacing Effect, which psychologist Frank Dempster deems "one of the most remarkable phenomena to emerge from laboratory research on learning." This method is based on an algorithm that shows how repetition, right at the brink of forgetting, can boost retention. Unfortunately, the Spacing Effect never caught high publicity. But its methods still work.
It follows the same idea behind the fact that you can’t cram for a test. Ideal learning happens when your child is exposed to a new word, is given a break from the word, and then exposed again shortly thereafter. The breaks in between exposure slowly increase, and the retention increases as well.
There’s an app for that. More like 50. The variety of apps that were created for language learning is endless. In fact, based on The Spacing Effect algorithm, Piotr Wozniak created an app called SuperMemo. This app provides a reminder of a word every time you are on the brink of forgetting.
While SuperMemo targets older children and even adults, there are plenty of language apps available for younger children as well. These apps take children on a journey, simultaneously teaching them tales and a new language.
5. Teach Culture Along with Language
Languages don’t just exist out of a need for communication. Languages tell stories of the cultures they originate from.
You can teach your child the word “sombrero,” but what better way to help them remember than to place a traditional Mexican sombrero on your little’s head. She will think it is fun, understand a piece of the culture, and have an easier time remembering that sombrero means “hat.”
Since children are hard-wired to learn languages at a very young age, the younger you start, the better the chance that your little one will pick it up. And as you teach, teach often, and let you and your little embrace the culture that this new language represents.
Ciara Boyce is a content writer at Day Translations and a mother of one rascally little two-year-old. Ciara has a passion for uniting cultures across the world. She loves to encourage people through both the spoken and written word, and starts
every morning motivating others with daily affirmations.