Helping Children Learn a Second Language, Even If You Don’t Speak One


how to learn a second languageWe always hoped our kids would learn a second language, but this has proven difficult. My husband knows Mandarin, and I know some Spanish, and while we had intended to speak to our kids in these languages, we don’t really do it in any significant amount.

The earlier kids start learning a second language, the better. Learning a second language can help social skills, help with brain development, and give toddlers an “edge.”

In an effort to make some changes in our family before they grow out of toddlerdom, here are some ideas for bringing a second language into our kids’ lives:

  • Sing songs. My husband found some great Chinese nursery rhymes on iTunes, and I found some Spanish ones. We’ve been playing them regularly in the mornings after breakfast.
  • Find a bilingual daycare or preschool. The decision on a preschool is multifactorial, and unfortunately this just didn’t work out for us at this time. But, there are lots of great ones out there if this works for you!
  • Find bilingual babysitters. This is one thing we’ve done successfully! A local au pair from China has been helping us in her free time, and she speaks to the kids in Mandarin.
  • Find TV shows with other languages. If you have a television and allow your kids to have some screen time, consider getting a Spanish channel and watching cartoons in Spanish – Paw Patrol, Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse – to name a few. Others like Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego Go expose your kids to other languages and sounds.
  • Read bilingual books. This won’t really work if you don’t speak the language, but if you do, get some books in other languages! For example, this word book, or beloved Dr. Seuss books or Sandra Boynton books.
  • Find bilingual games. You can get some great toys that expose kids to other languages. For example bingo for older kids, talking farm or counting maracas for younger kids.
  • Live and travel abroad. Not an option for us at the moment, but one day we’d love to take a “family sabbatical” and fully immerse our kids in another culture.

Please share any other ideas you have!


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