Bring the World Closer Through a Foreign Language
By Evgenia Vazquez
In day-to-day life we tend to get so stuck in our routines that we stop paying attention to certain familiar things. One of those things taken for granted is language… that is until one finds himself in a foreign country or moves into a multicultural community. According to American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL), “Just one out of every five children in the United States take the opportunity to learn a foreign language during their K-12 years. Yet a second language not only impacts career choices — taught early enough, it can help students pick up new languages throughout their lives”.
Facts to consider
Parents naturally want to raise their kids to be improved versions of themselves. If you choose to teach your children another language, what is the best way to do it? And when is a good time to start? Public schools don’t start teaching foreign languages until middle or high school, if at all. Waiting until high school to start a foreign language program is a missed opportunity. Research shows that children can start to differentiate foreign languages even during their infancy, and these skills taught in the earliest of years can help build “…executive functioning — a set of cognitive processes that includes attentional and inhibitory control skills — and cognitive flexibility, which aids problem solving and planning,” according to a 2017 study Young Minds: The Important Role of Brain Science, co-authored by Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Practical Tips from Bilingual Moms
Anna Pyanov of Clinton, a Kazakhstan native and mother of four, says homeschooling her crew helped because she could integrate Russian language into the school curriculum to teach her children to read and write. Of course, speaking a foreign language with your little ones at home is the fastest way to success. However, “you actually have to get them to respond to you,” – says Karla Elmore, a native of Mexico who is raising two children in Jackson. “When I speak Spanish to my girls, they tend to want to respond in English, and I have to make them pause and repeat it in Spanish. We see the best results when we send the girls to visit their grandparents in Mexico for vacations. When they come back, all they want to speak is Spanish”.
Travelling really is the best way to pick up a language. Full emersion into the culture allows the brain to rewire in unimaginable ways. Words are memorized faster when associated with certain events or places. However, for those who do not have an opportunity to travel or did not grow up speaking another language, there are a few tips to help the children open up to learning a foreign language:
- Start introducing other languages and cultures early, as early as 1-2 years old.
- Buy bilingual books and toys. They can be found online; even retailers like Walmart and Target carry multilingual tablets.
- Play cartoons and songs on YouTube in other languages.
- Hire a bilingual nanny and ask her to teach her language to kids. Some parents find a good match through programs like Au Pair or Work and Travel.
- Host a foreign exchange student if possible.
- For older children that know how to read, hang sticky notes around the house with words in foreign language.
- Try to learn the language along with your child. Learning together is a fun way to connect, and you can practice with each other.
- Set up an “English” jar at home and pick foreign language days. For every word said in English, put a dime into the jar (that’s of course if the kids have some money of their own). Those cents add up fast and can be spent towards buying more books or even a trip.
- Try to join international communities online or go to international events. Local colleges host international festivals and are often open for everyone to attend.
- Regular items like shampoo bottles and restaurant menus are worth paying attention to, as they often list information in multiple languages.
The possibilities are endless. Bottom line is, with a little creativity, you can easily bring the world closer to your children through a foreign language, so one day they will be more prepared to go and see more of the world on their own.
Evgenia Vazquez is a Russian-born resident of Jackson, MS, who is a part of Russian-Speaking Community of Mississippi, and enjoys teaching her son Russian and Spanish.