As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to succeed. One of the greatest gifts a child can receive is another language. Bilingual children enjoy better memory and attention levels, enhanced executive functioning and creativity, and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those only raised with one language. Beyond the direct benefits to their brain, raising a child to be bilingual will benefit them in the future when it comes to career prospects. The number of U.S. job postings geared towards bilingual candidates more than doubled from 2010 to 2015. Even just domestically, the rising Latin American population in the United States means bilingual opportunities will keep getting more popular. Those who can speak Spanish as well as English will be much more competitive in the U.S. job market now and in the future.
It’s no wonder then why so many parents are speaking two languages to their kids, enrolling their kids in language immersion schools, finding a tutor, or using apps to teach languages. Language acquisition, especially for children, is driven by immersion. Language learning can’t be limited to special occasions or a class that’s taken a few times a week. It needs to be heard and practiced regularly. To stimulate and maintain a child’s interest in learning languages at home, we came up with a list of fun activities you can do with your child to promote language development.
Activities to motivate language development of your child
The benefits of reading storybooks are great, but taking the next step and telling stories yourself is a phenomenal way to provide good bonding time with your children and to bolster communication skills. Imagining characters, settings, and scenarios will strengthen a child’s vocabulary and overall creative abilities.
Even non-fiction stories, such as those about relatives or past events or merely one’s day, will improve a child’s conversational capacity and language acquisition, especially when it comes to speaking in the past tense. It can be hard to overstate the importance of talking to your child – it really is one of the best things you can do to aid them with their language development.
Once your child is at the age where they can write, encourage them to write stories in a journal or notebook. Take an interest in them and read them! Your child will feel rewarded and motivated to continue.
Think of role-playing as a gamified form of acting. Take on different characters and talk as if you were them. The field of improvisational comedy is built nearly entirely on role-playing. Brainstorm situations, like Police Officer arrests a Burglar or Astronaut encounters an Alien. Take this as an opportunity to get to know your child’s interests, like Pokémon, Minecraft, Star Wars, or Paw Patrol. Role-playing is a very effective way to learn vocabulary specific to various professions or locations.
Riddles & Jokes
Riddles and jokes are very similar in terms of the language skills that they involve. While a riddle has a question and an answer and a joke has a set-up and a punchline, both often involve clever wordplay in the form of homophones or metaphors. Because of this, they’re a great way to learn the intricacies of languages. In English, “wood” and “would” are pronounced the same, but mean very different things. In Spanish, “nada” translates to “nothing” or “he/she/it swims” depending on the context. Jokes and riddles are great ways to develop mnemonics that help a child differentiate between very similar or same-sounding words.
Consider implementing a riddle or joke of the day that you give to your child every morning. If your child gets the right answer, you could reward him or her with a treat or a prize to encourage them to keep participating!
Similar to riddles and jokes, tongue twisters are fun challenges that help a child’s brain discern between similar sounding-words. Pronouncing these tricky words quickly and correctly develops linguistic recognition, linguistic production, and executive functioning.
“Sally sold sea-shells by the seashore” or “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” are two well-known tongue twisters in English. Search for tongue twisters in the language you want to help your child acquire and have him or her practice them once every few days.
Charades, Pictionary, hangman, Scrabble, and Contact are all timeless, endlessly fun games you can play with your child to develop reading, spelling, and speaking skills. The best part is that these games can be played in any language! These games are a fantastic way to expand vocabulary and word-image associations in your child’s mind.
Tips for helping children who are struggling with language development
Even in spite of a parent’s best efforts to stimulate bilingual language development, a child will often struggle. This is more likely if the child has already developed a native tongue and is learning a secondary language on top of that instead of simultaneously. Here are a few tips to help overcome some common struggles.
Find entertainment in the target language
Find foreign-produced entertainment or simply change a few settings on the entertainment you already consume as a family. Many movies, cartoons, YouTube videos, and video games offer subtitles or even audio in multiple languages. Visual mediums are great because even if you don’t understand all of the words, the images will give you the gestalt of what’s going on. See if you can identify vocab words or phrases!
Use a language-learning app
DuoLingo offers vocabulary and grammar activities for a wide variety of languages. Babbel offers games, podcasts, and videos with an emphasis on learning through speaking. Shoonya offers fun online Hindi classes for kids. These apps are a great way to supplement your child’s learning through interactivity.
Join your child in the language-learning journey
One of the best things you can do for your child when the going gets rough is to show them they’re not alone. If you take classes alongside them and immerse yourself, you’ll demonstrate that there is no challenge you can’t conquer together. Language acquisition might be harder for adults, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Sit down with your child and learn together.
Raising your child to be bilingual is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. If you want your child to reap the many cognitive benefits, the process of learning doesn’t have to be a slog. Play games, tell stories, jokes, and riddles, and role-play with your child to stimulate and accelerate their learning. If they’re struggling, consider augmenting their immersion through entertainment, language learning apps, or by participating in learning alongside them.