Many bilingual mums and dads find it difficult to teach their children a second language because they refuse to use it. Today I will present 5 things to do when teaching kids a second language.
Like many other bilingual mums, I experienced many frustrations, especially after spending time getting some plans together, finding resources, printing out workbooks, and even spending money to get learning material for them.
Not to mention the time I spent actually teaching them to speak and read in Chinese. In this blog post, I will go “behind the scenes” and unravel the truth about children’s reluctance to learn a second language. Then I will provide good tips on how to find a way to work it out for us.
1. Find out if your kids feel uneasy about learning
Let’s face it; nobody likes to face an uneasy and uncomfortable situation. When we are asked to give a speech in a foreign language, swim in a deep ocean we don’t usually do, or go to a foreign country to talk to people who speak no word of English; the initial reaction is to say ‘NO’ right away, find an excuse, and run as far away as possible. This goes with kids, too; they will shut down immediately when they feel uneasy.
My older daughter B goes to a local Chinese school every Sunday, but my boy M refuses to go for a long, long time until I finally convince him. He won’t go because he can’t find friends there, making him very uneasy in the surroundings. He also finds it very silly that he can’t speak Mandarin Chinese well compared to other kids in the class.
I managed to find out the truth by talking to him openly. Then I found out one of my friend’s daughters, who is in the same situation as my boy, born in a bilingual family, will also go to the school. Her mum also finds it very hard to teach Mandarin Chinese at home, which is also mum’s mother tongue.
Having a friend at the Chinese school, my son M is much happier. The simple thing that makes children do something they refuse to do is often very simple, but you just have to ask for it.
- Find the reasons: What makes your children uneasy? What things make them annoyed? What is the reason they feel that way? What do they wish was different? Have a sit-down conversation with your kids and listen to them. You will have a better chance to understand them and find the solution for them.
- A good explanation about ‘uneasy’ will do the trick: Use your own childhood case to explain to them how you faced an uneasy situation and explain how it has helped you as an adult.
- Children admire their parents and often see them as their life models. Your experience will give them a good reason to put themselves in an uneasy situation and try to overcome it. You can also tell them how you get stressed and frustrated at times; you will be surprised to find out how much your kids are willing to do to ‘help’ you! After all, they want to be mum and dad’s heroes!
2. Keep a Record of Kids’ Progress on Second Language Learning
Making progress when teaching kids a second language is hard. We should all prepare ourselves to face this difficulty with patience, a good plan, and a reward system. Do not let the frustration get in the way of your kids’ second language learning.
Kids can easily forget what they learned. Language learning takes time, effort, and persistence. Keeping a record of what’s learned is an important task.
- Realistic goal setting and plan: Set a realistic goal for you and your kids. So it can be realistically achieved yet inspire kids’ interest simultaneously. Try not to compare your kids to others who are more advanced in the target language you are teaching. Kids are all different; they all learn at different paces.
- Draw a plan that is suitable to your own kids: Do not rush them to a race unless it will inspire your kids’ progress in language learning. After all, they don’t need many trophies in their cupboard but a life-long skill that can take them a long way in life.
- Reward well: Set up a good reward system for your kids’ learning. A weekend trip away or their favorite toy store. This will not only encourage their learning along the way. It also teaches them the philosophy of ‘NO PAIN, NO GAIN.’ The hard work will be paid off if they follow the path well.
3. Find a Speaking Environment
This is always the hurdle faced by bilingual/multilingual mums and teachers. In an English-speaking country like where I am now in the UK. All resources and neighborhood displays are in English. Your kids DO NOT have a speaking environment. This increases the chance your kids refuse to speak a second language.
- Local language learning school or community: Both of my kids go to a Chinese Language school religiously. I stayed in the class with my boy M several times until he felt he could stay learning on his own. This is by no mean the ONLY solution. But pairing your kids with other like-minded families and kids will definitely help.
- Local library or groups: You might also try the local library to see if any local group is running in your area. Joining with others who speak the target language is the most natural way to teach kids a second language.
- Pen pal: You could also try to find a pen pal but only when your kids’ writing skill is well developed.
- A private tutor can help: This works the most advanced way but depends on your budget. A tutor can work her magic more than bilingual parents themselves. Why? Simply your kids pay more attention to them, knowing that a tutor’s single purpose is to teach them a language skill!
4. Find Reasons to Use the Target Language
Growing up in a non-English-speaking country, I am passionate about learning and using the language. I love English singers and English literature. My passion has driven me to learn and practice my target language daily.
What if your kids have no reason to speak a second language? Finding a reason for your kids is another task for you to do when teaching kids a second language.
- Give a chance for them to use the language of a real person: I let my kids speak to my mum in China via WeChat (a Chinese app like Whatsapp) and make them understand if they do not speak to my mum in Mandarin Chinese, they can not help her in any way they want to.
- In a little false emergency: For example, I will tell my kids to say how to wish grandma to recover from a little sore shoulder or back. This works wonders, as my kids believe by saying those Chinese words, they help their grandma to get better. On the other hand, my mum is thrilled to hear her grandchildren speak her language. See, double win-win!
- Culture love: I regularly take my kids back to China on holiday. So they can spend time with their grandparents and also go on trips to various attractions in China. The vast culture and historical attractions in the surroundings teach my kids automatically.
- Kids learn better by seeing, experiencing, and feeling: By showing my kids the ancient temples, and imperial gardens, I present them with a good reason to learn the language so they can explore more on their own later on in life.
5. Find a Fun Fact for Kids
Your kids will not want to learn the language if they find there’s no fun in it at all. Forcing it through will only make a bad impression on their mind. Then the connection between your kids and the language will become even looser.
- Go to local cultural events
- Find some traditional games
- Go and watch target language films and read books in both languages
- Allow kids to mark the pronunciation in English (they find it really funny with some sounds). For example, in Mandarin Chinese, the word ‘socks’ is very much like the English word ‘vase’!!!!
I hope you enjoy this post about 5 things to do when teaching kids a second language. If you have any other tips and experience. I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below and let me hear your thoughts!
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