Chatterfun News

Start Learning a Second Language Now

By: Dr. E. Anne Shine
Assistant Professor of Writing
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Guest Contributor to Chatterfun

If you are thinking about having your child learn a second language, start now. It does not matter how old the child is as long as the language school is willing to accept him/her. Most research suggests that the sooner a child starts to learn a second language, the easier it will be.

Ideally, your child will learn a second language in an immersion situation where the child is exposed to the language with the same frequency and intensity as when learning a first language. But, realistically, this is often not possible for many reasons.

Nevertheless, the sooner the child starts learning the language the better. In 1981 in New Zealand, the possibility that Maori was facing language death was acknowledged. Maori is the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The mechanics of government rumbled slowly into action and Te Kohanga Reo were established. Kohanga reo are kindergartens or preschools in which the language spoken and the culture taught are Maori.

When this attempt to help Maori language survive was started, it was common to find that neither the parents nor the children could speak more than a few words of Maori when they began attending a kohanga reo. Now, although Maori is far from secure, it is in a much better place than it was in the past and each year thousands of children move from kohanga reo to primary school well versed in the Maori language and culture as well as the English language. Two major aspects of the kohanga reo approach to teaching Maori were to start with young children aged 3-5 and to involve the parents.

If you are thinking of having your child learn a language you cannot speak, consider learning along with the child. Although your child will probably have a different, perhaps more relaxed, attitude to learning than you, it should be fun for the two of you to learn together. And if your child outstrips you in no time, well that is quite normal. Just think of all the immigrant families all around the world where the parents rely on their linguistically competent children to help them with daily tasks that are beyond them.

However, another thing to consider when deciding when to expose your child to another language is that very young children learn to play musical instruments even though their parents cannot play. So, agreeing to learn a language along with your child is not essential just as it is not essential to learn to play the violin along with him/her. What is essential is that you appreciate the effort the child is making and applaud the progress made.

The most important thing when your child begins to learn a second language is to ensure that the process is pleasurable. Language can be learned through games and puzzles. Videos and interesting picture books are also great ways to teach vocabulary. And if the child is young enough, the grammar will come right over time.