Language learning is strange. There are not many subjects (are there any others?) where an expert may find that any random five year old is better at it than they are. A little girl in Rome once tried to teach me some basics of Italian. She was a great teacher, partly because she was happy to repeat the same things over and over again and partly because, far from becoming impatient with my mistakes or my difficulty in remembering things, she found both endlessly funny. The idea that she could speak the language effortlessly while I, a supposed linguist, was struggling to put a few words together, was in itself bizarre.
It is precisely because speech is such an innate ability to the native speaker, who doesn’t usually even remember learning it, that the task of learning another language, with its conscious efforts of memory and construction, seems such an arduous, uphill struggle. You expect learning a musical instrument or a new practical skill to be challenging. But just to be able to speak? It’s exasperating that that should be such a slog!
So here are 3 ways to help your child with their language learning.
1 Get them to teach you (or share with you, if you already know) one new word a day. Write each one on a small card, with its translation on the back. Use them to test each other. You can either ask what the word means in your language, or the other way round. At the end of the week, the month, the term, they – and you – will be amazed how many they know!
2 Each week choose a simple word or phrase in the language they’re learning. For example: No thanks, Sorry, Cool! or I don’t know. Write it up in a prominent place at home to remind you. Throughout the week, whenever either (or any) of you want to say it, say it instead in the other language. If someone says it in your own language, correct them!
3 Play a card game based on opposites. Make, over a number of days, pairs of cards with opposites written on them: yes on one card, no on the other, good – bad, day – night, old – new, fast – slow, big – small, long – short, black – white, beautiful – ugly, expensive – cheap, right – wrong, hello – goodbye, etc. When you have at least six pairs, mix them up and lay them face down on the table. Take turns to turn over two cards. If they are a pair, keep them. If not, turn them back and the other player has to try and find a pair.
And remember: the mere fact that you’re getting involved in their learning is probably the most motivating thing of all!