Note from Hint Mama: My friend Ruslana Deykun speaks three languages fluently – Ukrainian, Russian and English – and has some knowledge of German and Spanish. So, Ruslana, who previously shared the Russian secret to early potty training, knows a thing or two about how to learn a foreign language. Today’s hint is a guest hint from Ruslana on six budget-friendly ways to incorporate foreign language learning into your child’s life.
The younger children are, the easier it is for them to learn another language, and according to numerous research studies, learning a foreign language also helps children’s intellectual development. So, I’ve always wanted to expose my children to as many languages as possible before age 6.
The easiest way to teach a foreign language to a child is through a family member regularly talking with the child in that language or if that’s not possible, hiring a nanny whose native language is the language you want your child to learn. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a family member that can serve as a language teacher, and hiring a nanny can be costly.
The good news is that, as I’ve discovered first hand, there are budget-friendly ways to incorporate foreign language learning into your child’s life. Today’s hint covers six of these strategies.
Use screen time to your advantage. I’ve long awarded my daughter with cartoons in Spanish for a good behavior. Nowadays she frequently asks me to put a cartoon in Spanish on for her. I happily do that. Dora the Explorer is one of our favorites. I complement this with various short Spanish lessons for kids, and Spanish cartoons with English subtitles, that can be found on YouTube in abundance. (My husband and I need subtitles for translation). I also expose my daughter to various short Chinese lessons for kids and cartoons in Chinese on YouTube. We particularly like Learn Chinese with Emma and Muzzy.
Think creatively when it comes to preschool. In other words, send your child to a language-immersion school. And if you want your little one to learn more than one foreign language, don’t be afraid to send your child to multiple preschools.
My 5-year-old daughter is bilingual in Russian and English, as those are the languages we speak in our home. She also attended a bilingual English-Russian preschool. However, I also wanted her to learn Spanish, so I found the nearest Let’s Play in Spanish preschool and negotiated with them, so that my daughter could attend the school just once a week at a reasonable rate. On this day we took a day off from her regular preschool, and she attended the Spanish-language one.
Take advantage of car time. To be sure, having Spanish just once a week isn’t enough to gain language proficiency, but I also turned preschool commute time into Spanish-learning time. My daughter’s Let’s Play in Spanish preschool program offers a number of reasonably priced musical CDs, and we listened to those a couple of times a week while driving to and from my daughter’s regular preschool. Other times, we listened to Chinese songs in the car. You can similarly listen to language CDs with your children anytime you’re driving.
Incorporate language learning into play time. My daughter brought home crafts with Spanish written on them from her Spanish program, and we used those regularly in play, repeating the words. The Spanish words really did stick in our minds after these games.
Share a tutor. A friend and I hired a Chinese tutor for our children, and we vary the homes where we hold a session. It’s hard to hold the attention of children under five for a long time, so we help the teacher run these sessions in a play-based mode. For example, kids learn vocabulary of food items, while playing with the kitchen sets, or they learn the names of animals while playing with puppets. We also sometimes watch a simple cartoon in Chinese during the lesson, translate it with the teacher and then do a role-play game based on a Chinese cartoon while repeating various Chinese expressions from the cartoon.
Find foreign language story times. Finally, another inexpensive approach is to start attending story times in Spanish, Chinese or another foreign language, available at many local libraries and book stores.
So far, in addition to being budget-friendly, the ways we learn the languages with my daughter are quite natural for her, and she is having fun. She frequently asks the names of various subjects in Spanish or Chinese, and I know from the parents of my daughter’s friends that she tries to teach Spanish and Chinese to her friends as well.
What are your strategies for frugally exposing your children to foreign languages?