Question: Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Children

Hubby and I are thinking of learning Spanish. We live in an area where the population is probably at least 60% Hispanic, and one of the main reasons we and other members of our home church moved into this neighborhood was to be able to reach out to our neighbors. We are finding out that that is difficult to do when we don’t know their language. I have a good Spanish program (textbook, audio and video CD-ROMs, workbook, etc.) from taking a quarter of Spanish way-back-when at community college, so Hubby and I can probably use that as a starting point.

My questions are, what if we start practicing at home in front of our toddler? Do kids get confused if they sometimes hear an object called one name in one language and another name in another language? Has anyone ever had experience with your children learning two different languages at once? Did it frustrate them and delay their language skills, or did it enhance their language abilities?

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5 responses to “Question: Teaching a Foreign Language to Young Children

  1. I have no real experience with this, of course, but there are plenty of bilingual people in the world, so I don’t see why it’d be a prob. Our neighbors growing up were from El Salvador, and the parents said the kids spoke perfect Spanish with no English accent, while they also had no Spanish accent. I’ve always heard it’s better the younger you start.This is why my mom wanted to learn Russian with me–she wanted to witness to our Russian neighbors! I think that was the summer of the accident, though, because I don’t remember much coming of that. We got lots of yummy borscht that summer, though! :DGlad you and baby girl are doing well!

  2. I am teaching the little spanish I know to my boys simply because children’s memories and ability to learn are so incredible at such a young age. I am not very consistent though, but I’m am starting with body parts and numbers, and I’m sure they will pick it up with repetition and through singing. I don’t know if you ever watched sesame street when you were young but I learned 1-10 by watching it and learning the song. ANyways, I think it’s a great idea to teach a second language as early as you can. I went to Paraguay a few years back and spent time with some missionaries there who had a 3 year old and he was fluent in English and Spanish, at age 3! We were eating dinner and the parents asked the boy to say something and then say it again in spanish. I was impressed. So, I don’t think that children will be confused, I think they’ll just pick up that there are two different words for the same object. Two words mean the same thing. So, just to encourage you, go for it, and I think eventually he’ll get it.

  3. I read a book in this regard about teaching children sign language when they are young. Kids are smart and their brains are so spongy! The short version is, no, they will not get confused. At first they might intersperse the words and languages but even in bilingual households, by the age of three the child will even know that they can speak on language to one person but not to the other! Another thing to know is that there is a typical number of vocabulary words children will know at certain ages. When they are learning two languages their vocabulary will still be at the same level as other children, they just may know some of the words in one language and some in the other. For example, if the typical number of vocabulary words for a certain age is 26, the child might know 15 words in english and 11 words in Spanish. Eventually it catches up, of course. So no worries about DLF getting confused. He’ll be smarter than everyone before you know it. :)Love you all!

  4. (You don’t have to post this, but) I guess I never signed my comment, but that first one was me! :DLove,Ashie

  5. My sister is a bi-lingual teacher. She feels its extremely important that you don’t mix up the languages within a sentance. This can cause children to get confused and stop talking because they don’t know which language to speak in. She recommends using one language at home and another out in the world or having one parent use one language and another use another language. Like your other posters, she thinks starting two languages early is good.

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