Young children tend to pick up languages almost effortlessly. Over the first few years of their lives, they acquire their mother tongue, and if exposed to another language on a regular basis, they may acquire that language as well.
Being able to understand and communicate in another language can be a real asset. Yet, there are other advantages, such as the development of creativity and tolerance of other languages and cultures. Later in life, bilingualism has been shown to help people maintain a healthy brain, and even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease!
You may be worried that introducing your children to other languages while they are still trying to learn to communicate in their own may be confusing - or even worse, detrimental to their speech development. Actually, research shows that this is not the case. In fact, children are very capable at distinguishing different languages in different situations.
Even if you do not speak another language yourself, you can still provide language-learning opportunities for your child. Even a small exposure to other languages can be really beneficial for your child. The Lingo Show is a good place to start. You can also see further activities under ‘make a magic moment’ below.
How CBeebies can help
The Lingo Show is a good place to start your child's language learning experience.
The characters on the show are ‘bugs’ who each speak different languages.
Watching the show together with your child, you can pick up on the new words and integrate them in your everyday life.
For example, the German bug Lieb is using a horse "Pferd" in her Big Bug Show and you could use this term to refer to a toy or picture of a horse. You can then point out that it is a German horse.
The Lingo Show Game http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/lingo-show/games/lingo-show-bigbugshow/ on the CBeebies website lets children choose a bug to play with, then create their own show by collecting everyday objects in that language.
Just like with the show on television, you can practice saying the words with your child. Tell your child which language they are hearing. Do you know anybody speaking that language (such as another child at nursery). It may help additionally to say 'this is the language your friend speaks'.
Make a magic moment
There are many things you can do with your child to make learning a new language fun:
- When meeting children who speak other languages, learn a few words from that language and make it a game to use the words as often as possible
- Make up pretend games with foreign names for objects and actions, e.g. giving names to all your teddies in different languages
- Learn the words for their favourite things in different languages, for example, ice-cream flavours!