Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't)

Giving Your Child Another Language Without Knowing It

Judy Martialay, author of ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish, is my guest author today. She’s giving ideas of how to introduce another language to your kids at home even if you don’t speak a second one (like me)!

Hola! Let's Learn Spanish

Giving Your Child Another Language, Even if You’re Monolingual 

Do you want your child/children to be ready for the global world of the 21st century? Here is a gift that you can give to the child/children in your life that will last a lifetime: an early start in learning a language.

Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't)

Consider the benefits of knowing another language: direct communication with millions around the world; understanding, appreciation and respect for other cultures as well as our own; increased tolerance for diversity abroad and at home.  There’s more: better and more opportunities for employment; broader perspectives; better understanding of international affairs; delay of onset of dementia for up to five years.

Some of the mental benefits that children studying another language demonstrate compared with monolingual children are: better cognitive/thinking skills, which carry over to subjects as diverse as math and science; better ability at problem solving, innovative thinking, improved memory and listening skills; more understanding of our own language.

Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't)

Why start early? It’s true that we can all learn a language at any age. Starting at birth, children have an ability to hear and reproduce sounds from any human language. If all they here are the sounds of one language, they will stop making other sounds, and as the years pass, they will lose the ability to reproduce the unfamiliar sounds from other languages. This ability weakens by age 12. Maybe you know someone who came from another country before age 12 and had to learn English; that person probably speaks without an accent.

Plus…children learn intuitively, the natural way; they don’t dissect or question the way a language works. It may be that the patterns that children use in English aren’t as deeply ingrained as those of adults. Also, they have the advantage of time. It takes several years to master the complexities of a human language in order to be truly proficient. Adults are busy people; it is harder for them to devote the time needed to become fluent.

teaching your child a second language

So, you want your child to start learning a language at an early age! When? The earlier the better!

What if you don’t know the language that your child would study, or you forgot it? No problem! The good news is that you can start very slowly.

Here are some ideas to get you started….

  • The best thing that you can do is to begin learning the language yourself! There are other ways, but it is really awesome if you yourself begin; that way you are involved, you can speak together, and you give the message that you think  it’s important to learn the language.
  • Go to the library and take out a program; make sure that it has an audio so that you hear the native pronunciation. I know, you’re thinking, “ I’m so busy, it takes too much time.” But, it doesn’t have to take time. You can sign up at the library, by the way, for free courses via the Internet, where you hear the pronunciation on line from your computer at home, when you have time.  I did it for Japanese and Chinese.
  • You can learn a word a day; there are apps that send you the word and the pronunciation.
  • Do you have a baby or a toddler?  Begin with single words. Find out some words that you would like to teach, like “dog/doggie”, “milk”, “picture”, learn the pronunciation and keep repeating. That way, the baby hears and internalizes the “foreign” sound and will eventually say it.  My baby granddaughter who is 19 months old, has an au pair girl from Colombia. She isn’t talking much but she can point to her nose, mouth, etc. when the nanny, or her Mom, asks her where is your nose, etc. in Spanish. Understanding comes before talking.
  • At any age, with learning languages, children need repetition, so you will be remembering the word as you repeat it.
  • Start with one word, then move on to some expressions that are fun to use, like, “it’s great”, “hi!”, “how are you?” “that’s funny” “that’s silly”. Then move on to sentences: questions and answers. Think of some questions your child could ask a child who speaks the language, What’s your name? How are you? What do you like to.., etc.   These are conversation starters.     
  • Find a native speaker who will speak to the children, maybe a relative or a friend or a neighbor. The best is if you can find a child the age of your child or children who is a native of that language; research shows that, by age 4, children want to speak the language of their peers.
  • Children love games…and music. So, be sure to include lots of games, songs, nursery rhymes, and short poems. They also love stories, so look for picture books in Spanish, bilingual or partly bilingual stories.
  • Find a program where you can work together; once again with audio. Check out my book, ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish, a starter program written for parents, whether or not they know Spanish and kids roughly 6-10.
  • Is the language taught in your district’s elementary school? Excellent! If not, ask your Board of Education to begin FLES, Foreign Language in Elementary school. Bring other parents; there’s strength in numbers. Be sure to insist on continuous foreign language instruction from elementary through high school.

Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't speak a 2nd one)

More ideas for encouraging your child to speak the language

  • How about the whole family planning to take a trip to the country where the language is spoken? Nothing can beat that! Start learning the language before the trip as a preparation; that will get everyone excited! You can’t afford it? No time? Country unsafe for travel?
  • Find groups of bilingual speakers in your community.
  • Take family outings to restaurants which serve the food in the language; speak to the waiters in the language.
  • Take out movies in the language with subtitles in English, or vice versa; take your child’s favorite movie and turn on the foreign language subtitles.
  • Find an e-pal for your child in a country that speaks the language.  Find after school classes, Saturday classes, camps that feature the language.

Remember to encourage and praise your child. At a certain point, you can ask him/her to teach you!

Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't speak a 2nd one)

The Internet has lots of resources for learning languages. For a starter, go to the NNELL website, and click on “Resources”, then “Parents”.

Be sure to visit blogs written by monolingual parents who are raising their children bilingual. They provide support and ideas.

It takes many years for a person to become fluent enough in another language so that it becomes a useful, marketable skill. But it’s well worth the effort.

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Giving Your Child Another Language (even if you don't)

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. With our very diverse country, I think this is so important, because kids learn so quickly. I wish I could have done this with my daughter. She was hearing impaired and struggling to learn to speak. She wears hearing aids. You would never know today! We did use some sign language for fun!
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Mother BruceMy Profile

  2. I so agree–the earlier, the better!

    I have been lucky in that my husband is German, and has always only spoken German to our daughter. When she was younger, he used to read to her “auf Deutsch” nightly; she watched German movies, listened to German music, and we also lived in Berlin for a year when she was 2.5, and have made frequent trips there to visit family. This has been the best give we could ever have given her! It takes commitment though, and the desire to do it.

    She speaks well, but makes some grammatical errors, though now that she has officially been a student of German for the last 2 years, that has improved significantly. Now she can both read and write better in German. And another great gift–this summer she will make her first solo trans-Atlantic flight and stay for 4 weeks with family and friends (w/o us!). Immersion is the best way to learn and live a language. As they say, use it, or lose it. It also helps that I speak German. In fact, when we’re in a store, or elsewhere in public, she often speaks to me in German, so that others cannot understand 🙂

    Thanks, Mia!!

  3. I met an American man (I think) who studied French as a student, even going to France for a bit, and fell in love with the language. He only talks to his toddler in French (I know this because I – for some odd reason – asked him whether he was speaking French…In English (looking back, I should have said “Parle vous Francais?”; “Do you speak French?”)
    I like different languages. 🙂
    Erik – TKRB recently posted…Review! Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility by Jake KerrMy Profile

    • Hi Erik,
      Are you studying French in school? My 8th grade daughter is most taken with languages but she doesn’t have a natural knack for it; she has to work hard at it and her accent would not be mistaken for native. But she’s taking Spanish and Latin in middle school and asked to get the Chinese tutor back to learn more Chinese. She really does seem to enjoy languages. Recently, she’s been trying to speak in Spanish at home to us. I am learning a little on my own.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…5th Grade Science Project: Rube Goldberg MachineMy Profile

  4. I’ve always wanted to teach my children another language but not being fluent in any other language I’ve been afraid to try
    Mother of 3 recently posted…10 Ways to Find Peace In Your Homeschool DayMy Profile

  5. What a great way for people like me to teach give the gift of another language. Love t!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Is Shakeology a Lifestyle Cheat?My Profile

  6. Bilingualism is really important. I have been developing a brand for several years that offers an anglo mandarin learning environment for children and we see notable improvements in their development.

    We are a central London nursery, called Hatching Dragons. I would welcome your thoughts on our site which is

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