How to engage your children in learning a new language. by Maylin Billingham - Profesora de inglés

How to engage your children in learning a new language.

I remember being taught languages when I was younger. I sat through sporadic classes maybe once a week, long breaks between sessions and a serious lack of planning. There was no plan and no consistency. I learnt languages in the same way I now choose to exercise, sporadically and without much enthusiasm. 


Suffice to say, whilst I have a passing understanding of quite a few languages, I am still only fluent in one. English. 


Nearly two decades on and I have transitioned from learner to teacher. I have young students I coach and a little brother whom I manage, and I have developed the perfect strategy to get children interested, keep the system simple and make the learning stick. 


Here are my top tips for you! And with each example I will show you how I have adapted the system to teach Spanish to my little brother, Salo.


1) Make it a habit!

Small, daily exercises to keep the language fresh and make its learning a focus. 

This one is absolutely crucial. Children’s brains act like a sponge, you see it every time they quote endless lines to you from their favourite films (often despite your clear lack of interest in the subject.) They will learn quickly when you give them the opportunity to.

For this step you must consult the Apps that I have no doubt you are already aware of.  For Salo we choose Duolingo, but there are obviously others, and even for more obscure languages you will often find an App if you look for it. 


Salo and I have a deal. Each morning, whilst I cook him breakfast, he completes 10 minutes of Spanish on Duolingo. HE MUST READ EVERY SENTENCE OUT LOUD, and reach 100 duolingo points to succeed. For Salo, the reward scheme is one pound per day IF he has a streak of 6 days at the end of the week, but obviously the reward can be adapted to the child. As this is the most time consuming step, I do think it is important to have a reward. To show your student their hard work is appreciated.

2) Listen to the new Language. 

Experience the language in context

Learning a new language is often about getting a rhythm for how it is spoken. With the older kids, find a film or series with subtitles and watch that together. For younger kids, Youtube is full of foreign cartoons using English Subtitles. Even listening to music in the language they are learning can give students a huge boost in their understanding. 

Hearing the language IN CONTEXT is essential to learning it for good. The apps will teach vocabulary and grammar, but without hearing it in context it is impossible to get a feel for the pace and flow of the language. They will be able to speak one off broken sentences, but get lost in longer conversations. 

For Salo, the trick has been dancing, we learn the lyrics to great spanish tunes and then sing and dance along whilst doing the washing up. We started with Despacito, but have moved on to real Spanish songs and it is fabulous fun. He doesn’t even need to understand every word, the important thing with this step is engaging with the rhythm of the language. 

3) Learn it with them.

Give them a partner, to show learning a new language is hard for everyone.

This has been a great boost to Salo’s practice, as I have started to learn language alongside him. I watch the films with him, we compete over Duolingo points and have VERY broken Spanish conversations over dinner. 

It gives him someone to practice with where he knows he’s unlikely to be corrected, no matter how wrong he might be. And also shows him, as I am currently rubbish, that no one can pick up a new language instantly. Not even his brilliant older sister. 

4) Find someone fluent to speak to.

Natural, free flowing conversation, is the #1 tip for learning a language properly.

You can learn as much vocabulary and conjugation rules as you like, until you start to put them into practice you will always feel like you are not a speaker. Refugees and Immigrants learn the languages of their new homes faster than anyone else for a reason, they have no choice but to go out into their new worlds and speak the language.

Once you have learnt the basics, language learning is about two things.
Confidence and Intuition.

Tips 1,2 and 3 are great for intuition. They will give you all the tools you need to understand and start building the language. But until you start regularly speaking to someone in the new language you will never be able to use your new skills. Speaking in a natural conversation with a fluent speaker requires students to listen and understand, formulate the answers, complete a translation in their heads and then speak the sentence out loud. It gives them a boost in confidence for their own capabilities, the teacher can nudge and correct them on mistakes and pronunciations, and they will also get the satisfaction of seeing that all their hard work is actually taking them somewhere. 

Unlike all the other steps this one is hard, often impossible, to complete alone. And is one of the key drivers in sourcing an external teacher. Here at Oxinity we specialise in this final step. Making the most out of short bursts of concentrated ‘Student Talking Time’ to build on our students' Confidence and Intuition with new languages. Please get in touch so we can show you how the system works and get your kids booked in for a free trial. But no matter what language you are learning, there is someone out there who can help you learn it. 


The important thing is to give your kids the opportunity to use their new knowledge,so it goes from being some words on a screen, to a skill they can be proud of. 


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