How to Capture Their Attention

If I got a dollar for every question I was asked about raising children, this right here would be the moneymaker:  How can I motivate a child to learn a new language if they have a short attention span?

Motivation is essential in learning a new language, more so for children than for adults. When an adult decides to learn a new language, we usually have a solid idea why we want to acquire this new skill. It can be for a job, for traveling or even to be able to communicate with the family of a loved one. Either way, adults usually have solid reasons for learning a new language. With children, it is not the same.

Cavanaugh with Flashcards

Most kids don’t yet have the long-term perspective thinking to choose a language for themselves. It might sound a bit cliché, but kids do live in the moment, especially kids who have short attention spans.

This issue can make bilingual learning a tougher task than many parents imagine. However, there are ways to counter their short attention span and keep children motivated in learning a new language.

I’ll start out with some personal experience on the issue. An effective way I found to keep my son interested is to keep activities within short bursts.

Working along with his tutors, I designed 15-minute activity chunks, so he could complete an activity before losing his interest. We used fingerplays and songs to keep his time sitting down to a minimum, and whenever he showed an extra interest in an activity, we took the opportunities to extend these projects to almost train his little mind (and body) to focus for longer periods of time.

Keep in mind, the only limit to these activities is your creativity! As long as your child is engaged and learning, any educational activity has its merit.


At one point my son had a cooking obsession and I lost no time in capitalizing on that. During that phase in his life, I made sure most of his bilingual learning for Chinese and Arabic was done in the kitchen. We got to cook while he was entertained and learning about the ingredients and the foods in his target languages.

If this sounds like fun to you, I’d highly recommend checking out Cooking with Languages – such a great resource!

It is normal for your child, especially a preschooler, to have a short attention span.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome the short attention span challenge and keep the language learning going.

Cavanaugh with Arabic Tutor

Add a physical aspect to bilingual learning activities. In fact, according to Edutopia, children with attention problems benefit from short breaks for active play. These breaks can be anything from doing jumping jacks to running around in the yard. Even physical activity before a tough classroom task can help your child focus, even for a short time, on the task at hand and keep them engaged.

Remove any visual distractions from the learning environment. I bet many, if not all, of us can relate to this problem. It doesn’t matter how dedicated you were to your studies. At some point in your life, you ran into a teacher or subject who simply made the clock above the blackboard seem like the most interesting and precious artifact in the whole world.

Everyone gets bored at some point. Children with short attention spans just have to deal with that more often than others. In order to minimize how much their attention drifts when that boredom unavoidably hits, make sure you take away any objects that might look like the Holy Grail during a boring lesson. And, never make the lessons boring!

As a rule of thumb use these two tips as your pillars in combating short attention span. First, keep bilingual learning experiences entertaining and be sure to add a physical element to help the child focus. And lastly, do your best to minimize distractions. After all you’re investing time and money in these language lessons, make them count, for everyone involved!

Do you know of any other ways to counter short attention span in bilingual learning? Let us know what tips and tricks you’ve used. And, stay active with us on Facebook and Twitter!

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