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Encourage a child to learn a second language; How to motivate a toddler at home

By: Pilar Ayala
Malaga, Spain
Guest Contributor to Chatterfun

A parent might want their child to learn a second language for very varied and different reasons: because it’s his or her native language and wishes to carry on the legacy, to have better professional prospects as a grown-up, to be bilingual, to increase creativity through the knowledge of other cultures, and so on; let alone psychological purposes as enhancing their ability to socialize and delay the appearance of Alzheimer symptoms, among others; but, obviously, we can’t explain these sensible arguments to a toddler.

If we want to motivate our children to learn a new language the best bet is to approach the activity in a recreational way, such as a game. Small children love toys, songs and fairy tales. To motivate your children in an efficient manner you can, for example, repeat words and show them vocabulary flash cards, sing easy and repetitive nursery songs, or use specially designed language CDs and DVDs available in the market.

When I was teaching English to young kids in Peru, I used to reserve “the hangman” word game for the end of the lesson, dividing the class into boys and girls groups (which they seemed to love for some reason) achieving two goals: they paid attention during the class and made an effort, waiting for the “fun time” and learnt some vocabulary through the game itself.

One of the most relevant factors to provide motivation to a child when learning a second or third language is the atmosphere at home; if the parents think that learning another language is beneficial and opportune, they might be used to listening to foreign radio stations, watching movies in a different language (with or without subtitles), having books, foreign newspapers or magazines, and bilingual dictionaries in the household; as the child is more exposed to the second language, he/she will be more connected to the new language and will regard it as part of his or her everyday life. In other words, you show them by imitation.

I learnt a language because I chose to do so, but learning a language at such a young age can be a subconscious process, as opposed to an intentional one, achieved through a natural environment, the creation of positive emotions in the child, and a day by day interaction, either in the classroom or at home.

You can also use the media (television, computers, internet, etc) as it is a great source of entertainment for the little ones, plus, nowadays is available for everyone.

There are countless of activities available for your children to inspire them to learn languages, just make sure they are varied and not monotonous, as the young child might get easily bored and familiar (my school, my home, my family, my city, etc)

Don’t forget to reward your child with recognition and positive feedback, and provide little prizes now and then. This serves both as a great motivator and helps to develop good self-esteem.