Chatterfun News

Supporting or Initiating Second Language Learning At Home

By: Melanie Meyers
Literacy Specialist and Educational Consultant
Buffalo, NY
Guest Contributor to Chatterfun

Andrew’s mom pulled me aside as he ran off to the sand table to join other early birds at our preschool learning center. “Do you know what Andy did last night?” she demanded. “He fights bedtime, always yelling downstairs that he needs something like another kiss or another tuck-in. Last night he called down to me that the water in his water bottle was ‘nasty and warm’. I told him it was fine and to go to sleep. After repeating that three times he was finally quiet. I thought he had fallen asleep. Suddenly he shouted ‘Agua! Fria! Ahora!’ After a few seconds he quietly added, ‘Por favor?’ He got the water.”

Andrew didn’t know it, but he had demonstrated that children internalize second language skills more readily if there is a personally meaningful experience requiring use of that language. His mother reinforced his learning of the Spanish vocabulary we were learning in preschool. The value of learning a second language has become increasingly apparent in our shrinking world and expanding multi-cultural communities. Hakuta and Pease-Alvarez (1992 study) showed bilingualism advances children culturally, cognitively, and economically.

Large bodies of research have determined the critical need for parent involvement in the education of their children. As Andrew’s mom demonstrated, it needn’t be formal or extensive, but should be integral to daily living and hold personal meaning for the student.

As I’ve worked in various classes and with different families, I’ve found there are a variety of ways for supporting, or initiating, second language learning at home.

  • Check out the wonderful world of software and applications for various languages! Ask teachers and other parents for recommendations. The school or public library may have free resources available.
  • Buy children’s literature in the foreign language. Especially helpful are stories the child is familiar with. Some books have both languages, such as Perro grande…Perro pequeno/Big Dog… Little Dog available on Amazon for $3.99.
  • Label items around the house with both the native and second  language. Refer to them throughout daily living.
  • Ask the teacher for copies of the curriculum if you are unsure of yourself and want to learn the language along with your child.
  • Play games with the new vocabulary. Make matching games such as picture/vocabulary in a memory style activity. Cut out pictures in magazines and glue to index cards.

These ideas are just a few to get started. It can be enriching and fun for the entire family!