Teaching a Second Language to Children

Most of the discussion here on LingQ seems to revolve around teaching additional language to adults who already have a fairly firm grasp on their native language. My daughter is only two and a half, so she is only now starting to speak her native language; but of course the study of languages is on my mind as I have been enjoying my progression in French. As I never had any success in studying a second language throughout my school years, I want to help my daughter to develop a love of languages from an early age. What are some recommended methods from other LingQ members to exposing children to language learning?

I would love to hear some practical suggestions and maybe hear some personal experiences in this area. In your experience, how young is too young? What are some ways you helped your very little ones to begin to get a handle on a second language when they are still very much learning their own? I know that a lot of children raised in bilingual families have an amazing ability to learn both languages, so they are obviously capable.

Curious to hear your thoughts.

perhaps getting your daughter to watch TV programmes in French and read french story books with her for example.

I don’t have any personal suggestions at the moment, but I would add something regarding “a lot of children raised in bilingual families have an amazing ability to learn both languages, so they are obviously capable.”

I suppose that’s true, but I what seems to be far more common is that the kids are bilingual because the parents speak the real native language at home, and then the kid goes to school being bombarded with the second language. Then when the grandkids are born, they only speak the language the parent (the original kid) learned at school–usually English. There doesn’t seem to be any choice or enjoyment in it.

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My observation was based on their ability, not their level of enjoyment. But, naturally I want to cultivate a desire to learn languages so they are self-motivated.

A french teacher told me to sing french songs to my grandchild to introduce her to a different language.

- YouTube “How We Raise our Trilingual Daughter”

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Pretty interesting listen and read, thank you for sharing. I can’t fathom how a child could keep those languages straight though and just come to understand the differing structures. I just can’t comprehend it haha.

My advice is to start talking to your daughter in your chosen language, and don’t stop. You’re a foreigner that doesn’t speak English. Encourage her to repeat your words so you can understand her (but it doesn’t have to be perfect). Develop feel-good routines like saying “night night” to all the things in the room or outside the bedroom window. Speak English to your other half, but always French to her. I assume English is the dominate tongue, so she’ll pick it up anyways, even if she never hears it at home.

My two daughters speak English with me, but I still have to encourage them daily to do it. They get frustrated when they don’t find the right words, but they get frustrated in their other tongue, too.

They absorbed a lot from YouTube.

And then lower your expectations because in the end, you won’t be reaping the reward of their amazing ability to learn both languages. You’ll just be getting sassed in two languages instead of one.

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Why did you reset your German stats?

My brother is Dutch/South African and his wife is Chinese. They basically stick to the rule that it is one parent, one language. Yes indeed, in the beginning the children mix the languages (mind you, it’s kinda adorable that my 2 year old nephew tries to speak Chinese to me), but as they grow older it seems to become less mixed. My 4 year old nephew is absolute fine with his Dutch, Chinese and English.

For kids who don’t have multilingual parents, I have notice that dutch parents often take in an aupair for a few years (normally spanish speaking). It seems to also pay off.

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My son is five and is growing up in France. I have only ever spoken in English to him (my native language), and his mother has always spoken only in French. He’s doing a wonderful job with both, though his French is obviously better than his English. The key for us was really insisting on the one-language, one parent paradigm.

Now that he’s speaking more or less fluently in both languages (with the typical child problems of mixing up tenses and vocabulary), I’ve started introducing him to Italian as a fun third language. He watches Muzzy in Italian and picks up words an expressions here and there, but I keep it very playful, no grammar or quizzes or anything like that. If he wants to stop, we stop, the point is for it to be fun and relaxing. So far he loves it.

The next challenge is making sure that he can read in both French and English. School is taking care of the former, I’m in charge of the latter. For now I work through a kindergarten-level workbook with him, teaching him first the letters and now we’re on to basic “sight” words.

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Hi, I’m the mum of two bilingual kids and I worked with kids in language awareness for several years. From my experience there are basiccaly two ways to help your daughter: give her the oportunity to discover other languages and culture, being curious, listening to other languages, playing in other languages, meeting people from other cultures and who speak other languages. You can do that very easily anywhere and you don’t need any particular knowledge, only your own curiousity and contact with other languages / culture. Anythng that she enjoys is good. That won’t allow her to speak another language but it can be even more important because she will get used to other languages, other sounds, other pronunciation, other writings, other ways of seeing the world, other ways of expression and that’s the most important part in language learning. You’re building solid foundations that will help her learn any language when she wants. If you understand French you can read these two articles I wrote about this topic and how we can do it in everyday life Eveil aux langues – The French Instinct: le français avec authenticité

The other way is giving her the opportunity to actualy learn one or several languages. But that’s only possible if she lives in a bilingual environment, either at home, at school, in your city, family, etc. To learn a language kids need a lot of real, authentic and useful interactions in that language with family, friends, neighbours, etc. We don’t “teach” a language to kids. They learn it if they need it. If she doesn’t live in a bilingual environment, then you can create one, by looking for a nanny who could speak to her in another language for example, or when she starts going to school by looking for a bilingual school.

But the first option is really usefull. Kids don’t necessarily need to speak other languages when they are very young to become bilingual one day. The sooner is not necesarily the better and even if they are monolingual that doesn’t mean they will struggle in learning other languages. I grew up in a monolingual environment but now I’m bilingual in Spanish and I speak other 3 languages. If she enjoys languages she’ll be able to learn them whenever she wants.

My kids are bilingual because they lived in Spain, their dad is Spanish, at home we speak both French and Spanish everyday. So they learn both languages naturaly. But they also want to learn other languages, because of their parents curiosity. My daughter who is 7 wants to learn Japanese and English, my son who is 9 wants to learn Portuguese. They are always asking us things about other languages. We play games, we meet people from very different places, we listen to music, we read books… in many languages. You’ll see that in my article. The important thing is: do things you enjoy with your daughter and she will naturally be interested in those things.


The simplest advice I have for now is watching kid’s programming on TV/Netflix/YouTube/DVD in the target language. Kids love to watch the same movies again and again. Since your current passion seems to be French, why not watch some of her favorite Kids movies with her in French? How many times will you be able to watch “Frozen” or “Finding Nemo”?

You don’t even need to put on the subtitles. You’ll learn, she’ll learn, and most importantly, you’ll have some quality Parent-Child bonding time together. Seems like an awesome win-win-win to me! No need to explain anything to her. She will naturally absorb the language without question. Try it for 30 minutes a day.

Reading children’s books to her is great too, whether in English or French

You could have French music playing in the background around the home. She’ll pick up on her favorite songs and probably begin to sing along, with the only effort on your part is remembering to turn on the speakers and start the streaming station.

Don’t worry if it will work or not, or if she’s learning fast enough. It always seems to work, from my observations of multi-lingual friends and their kids. It just takes time and frequent exposure.

When she’s older, she can choose her own languages, if she wants.

No such thing as too young or too old.

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