Learning any language is a process—especially when it’s your child’s second one. You’ve signed your child up for classes, hired a tutor and are set to see the fruits of your entire family’s labor. Or, so you thought. You were sure that your kiddo would at least have a few words (or hopefully sentences) in that second language by now. But, it seems like the language learning is going super-slow. What gives?
The Road to Learning
Is learning a language easier when your child is younger? Yes. Will it happen on its own? No. It’s a learning process. Your soon-to-be bilingual child’s second language education takes several steps. This means that you can’t expect fluency to happen immediately (or even within the first few months).
Think about how a child learns their first language. Babies don’t start out talking in full sentences. They make sounds, which turn into syllables, which they then combine or extend into words. This is a completely complex process that includes talking, listening, repeating and active learning (in other words, your child needs to participate in the process and not just sit back as a teacher instructs).
When learning a second language it’s normal for a young child to speak in short utterances (one or two word sentences) or simply just repeat what the teacher is saying. It takes time for the child to feel comfortable producing language that carries their own thoughts. When the child does finally begin to talk (express their own thoughts and not just repeat random words), sentence structure is typically very limited or basic. It’s also normal at this point for the child’s grammar to be a bit off. Don’t worry, the longer your child is immersed in the language, the better their sentence structure and grammar will become.
Keep in mind, as your child learns the language they are also learning the “rules” of the language as well. It’s not just the words that are important, it’s how your child uses those words. While your child might be able to point and name items around the house in Chinese, French, Arabic or whatever other language they’re learning, it’s also possible that your child can’t create a sentence that goes along with those same words (or, at least a grammatically correct sentence).
Time is Key
The less exposure your child has to the language, the less progress they’ll make. Not every child learns a language at the same pace. Even though there are steps that all children take as they learn language (milestones such as babbling, making noises, saying single-syllable words), it can all happen at a somewhat different rate for different children.
Even though providing your child with plenty of exposure to the language is essential, pushing them isn’t the way to go. Expecting too much from your child before they’re ready won’t equal immediate fluency. You need to give your child time—as much as they need.
Okay, so your child isn’t as quick to learn the language as you’d like. Does this mean that you take a step back? Not necessarily. Continue the lessons, tutoring and immersion. Your child may just need more chances to learn the second language.
So, you’re thinking, “If every child learns a language at a different pace, how can I tell if my child is learning enough?” Choosing a program that regularly does assessments can take the guess work out of this for you—especially if you don’t speak the second language.
The program/teacher should periodically review your child’s progress, updating you on what your child is doing well and where they may need improvement.
The feedback that the school or tutor gives you can guide your child’s learning and shape the next steps that you take. Never be shy or afraid from asking how your child is doing. If they are a dedicated educator, they will want to give you feedback every step of the way.
If your child is struggling in one area, you could hire a tutor to help or ask the teacher to provide extra instruction during class time. Also, ask what you may be able to do at home to support their learning. Often spending an extra hour a week can go a long way in boosting your child’s foreign language fluency.
It’s also equally important to know what your child is doing well (or what they are mastering).
This can also help to shape your expectations and provide you with a way to set realistic learning goals.
How long has your child been taking a foreign language? Share your story with us in the comments section!