You CAN teach your children a Foreign Language: Part 1

Languishing in Languages?  Let me show you how to teach foreign language through the ages!

Ages Birth to Five

This article is the first of a four part series on how to teach a foreign language to your children (even if you don’t know the language yourself!).  For many children, this age range is the best time to start. Before you spend a lot of money on DVD’s, CD’s, “language learning systems” and masses of extra flash cards, take some time to think about your child and your goals for the language.

“They’re like little sponges.” From ages birth to 5 years old, this commonly heard phrase is extremely relevant when applied to acquiring a second language. You may not hear or see or “feel” like your child is progressing in the target language, but if you’re using steps listed in this article, just know that the introduction and exposure IS getting through, and it IS sticking, whether or not you can squeeze it back out of your little sponge! Motivation is Key You will see this heading in each of my series’ articles. Without motivation (real or imagined!) your child will not succeed in learning the language, and quite possibly could develop a barrier. But that’s the bad news. Read on for the good news!

Enthusiasm is Catching. The momentum from the very first lesson will carry you on, or not. If you are excited about learning new words, and find ways to use them, your child will be too! If you drag out a DVD, hit play, and then wash the dishes, your child will see the value (or lack of) of the language lesson, and will also lack a partner with whom to practice. If you learn the word “thank you” in German and then use it at snack time, with a smile, you may get the perfect response or at the very least a big grin! Either one lets you know progress has been made! You communicated in the target language!

What about Immersion? Most experts agree the best method at this age is complete immersion in the language. I agree, within context. If you just toss a child into the middle of Mexico, he will most likely tune out almost all the Spanish, except for the moment someone is offering him a cookie, or he wants or needs something. However, within context, any single word or phrase will stick with him, as long as it is meaningful. Keep it simple! In general, learn words your child is interested in! Look for curriculum or workbooks (inexpensive ones are fine - just be sure there is phonetic spelling along with the new words, or a CD) that include coloring, drawing, speaking, but few words in each list. Too many will overwhelm you both.

Still wondering?

Follow these steps:

  1. Say the new word three times aloud. While you say it DO something - color the picture if it is a noun, or act it out, or touch the item in the room, if possible. Be very clear on the meaning of the word, but without translation.
  2. Use the new word(s) again within the day.
  3. Reinforce the words with the activity that fits your child best. Many books have pages to color, or suggestions for activities such as flash card games.
  4. Move on. If just a word at a time, even if you feel the lesson’s word list hasn’t been completely mastered. Just review regularly by using the words you’ve learned.

Beware of:

  • Presenting too many new words at once.
  • CD songs or DVD’s without any other form of learning (present the language in as many forms as possible)
  • Books without phonetic spellings drilling and memorizing (and then forgetting) anything that seems “hard” for your child. Focus on Fun!

Suzanne Gose (known by her students as Señora Gose) is a homeschooling mother of almost five children - baby number five is due this July. A former public school teacher, she currently teaches over 80 homeschooling students in weekly Spanish classes. She is also the author of the Flip Flop Spanish Workbooks and other language teaching tools. Visit her website at

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