Childhood is the time when we are most open to learning new languages, especially early childhood. Children start to pick up the phonetics of a language, the particular sounds and speech patterns, very early on. As they start to develop their vocabulary in the toddler years and into the preschool years, learning more than one language can be done more smoothly than at any other time.
How do children learn languages?
On the most basic level, children learn languages by hearing them spoken. This goes for both their first language and any other language they hear concurrently or at a later date.
Around two to three years old, children really start to pick up vocabulary. According to Erika Levy, PhD, an associate professor of speech and language pathology at Columbia University, "Kids this age are developing language skills rapidly, and they quickly absorb whatever they hear.”
Thus, the best way to teach your child a language is to let them hear that language spoken frequently, and by a native speaker who will have the correct sound and language rhythms. If you want to teach a second language, you may not have access to such a person, but educational videos can also do a great job. Watching a video in another language will help your child to pick up the basics.
How to connect the sounds with their meaning.
Just hearing a language spoken doesn’t translate into the ability to speak the language by itself. Adding books, toys and other language oriented activities to the mix will help your child to connect the words with their meaning. Parents already do this instinctively with the language they speak at home. Pointing out and naming objects around the house or in a book, explaining activities as they are done; these things teach children to connect sounds with words and words with things and actions.
Educational activities can provide the groundwork for expanding knowledge beyond the basics and creating sentences, beyond just words.
“There is no genetic code that leads a child to speak English or Spanish or Japanese. Language is learned,” states Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Professor of Child Psychiatry at Baylor School of Medicine. Any child can learn any language if allowed the right opportunities to hear and to practice the sounds. Children learn languages by:
- Hearing them spoken by native speakers
Being provided the opportunity to connect words with their meaning
- Having opportunities to expand their knowledge through language building activities
Your child can learn any language you want; you simply have to present them with the chance to hear that language from an early age, learn the words and meanings, and practice as much as possible.