Using Books to Introduce Kids to a New Language

Teach a child a second language and you give them a lifelong gift. Being bilingual offers a host of advantages over those of us who stumble along speaking only one language, including more opportunities when traveling, jobs that would otherwise be off-limits, and relationships that, without that second language, might never blossom.


If you live in a home where two languages are spoken, your child will grow up speaking both—kids have an amazing facility for learning languages. But what if you come from, say, a house where only English is spoken? You can still introduce your child to another language through videos, books, and extracurricular activities.


Books, Videos, and Activities

One of the best ways for a child to learn a language is bilingual immersion, where children take school classes where all teaching is done in the second language. Many school districts offer bilingual immersion, but usually only for commonly spoken languages. In other words, you might be able to enroll your child in Spanish immersion, but you probably won’t find an immersion class for Welsh.


Extracurricular language courses are another option for helping children acquire a second language, although they can put a strain on both your time and budget.


Both immersion and extracurricular classes usually require children to be at least old enough for playschool. If you want to get an early start on a second language, you can use books and videos as introductions.


Acquiring Vocabulary

Let’s assume you want to teach your child to speak Spanish—how do you get started? First, remember the best way to teach is by example. If you learn along with your child, she’ll learn faster. Take a language course yourself, and start teaching the Spanish words for things one at a time. For instance, you could ask her “What is book in Spanish?” and tell her the answer is “libro.” Work on one or two words at a time.


Older kids can be taught how to spell book in Spanish. If you have difficulty pronouncing a word, there are websites and apps that provide you with examples of how to say each word.


Choose videos and children’s television shows where the language you want to teach is spoken. Again, you’ll have the most luck with Spanish here—shows like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer introduce children to basic Spanish words.


If you’re comfortable with your pronunciation skills, read children familiar stories written in the language you’re teaching. For instance, if your child knows the tale of Cinderella, she’ll be able to follow a picture book of the story even if it’s written in Spanish. Check your local library as well to see if they offer bilingual Storytime.


Most of all, make learning a new language fun. Discover the words for common items around the house, favorite toys, and animals, and use those words in their proper context. You’ll be preparing your child for more advanced language lessons later, and who knows? You might just wind up bilingual yourself!

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