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Raising polyglot kids
Home > Guide > Tips & Tricks > Polyglot kids

Kids in many small countries get to know several language as "standard equipment" at an early age. This is not because of some genetic advantage, but rather because they have been exposed to those languages while young. Languages are easily learned while young (before 20), and parents can encourage their kids to learn one or even several on their own.

I have never heard of people getting to speak fluently languages they only learned at school, no matter how long they studied it. But I know many who learned on their own and were able in a couple of years to read, watch TV and have simple conversations in a new language.

I think that parents can help their kids learn languages, keeping most of the exercise fun and challenging. Here are some suggestions :


General advices

Your kids will probably take your values. That is, they will more or less think that what you believe is good and desirable actually is good. So begin by giving them early the idea that knowing several languages is a sign of excellence, something desirable. Furthermore, show them that this can be fun and quite easy, and encourage them all the way.

There are many things you can do, some are almost free, and some cost a little money. So I have grouped them by cost, so that you can select the appropriate tips according to your income and number of children.


Inexpensive ways

There are many ways of making your kids learn new languages that won't be expensive. Here are some among the most easy and cheapest :

Find TV channels in foreign languages, put them in the first 10 buttons of the remote control. Encourage your kids to watch TV in say, spanish. You can also put some rules like : no more than 2 hours of TV per day, except for foreign language channels which you can watch at will.

Suggest that he be woked up at the sound of a foreign language radio every morning. Those clocks-radios are cheap nowadays, and this is a good way to make him want to learn more.

If you don't live in Albania, you probably have people of many different national origins living around you. Encourage your kids to befriend children bilingual in their target language, or who even don't speak your mother tongue well.

If you go to church or another religious community every week, why wouldn't you go to a foreign speaking one ? Try once a month, then go more often. You will probably be invited to take part to some kind of community activity afterwards, an excellent opportunity to practice your skills and make new friends.


Costlier ways

In addition to the preceding tips, there are some you can add :

Arrange a year abroad for you kid, or a few month at least. This will only cost you the airplane ticket, as another kid (let's say, a young mexican) will come to your house for the same time. For thosw who made it during teenage years, this is one of the most meaningful experience of their youth. And the languages learned early stay forever, with a better accent and almost effortlessly.

Have a I-pay-your-foreign-books-and-movies policy with your kids. There are many excellent movies that run in foreign languages in most big cities, and many foreign language bookshops as well. If you pay for those, you give your kids a strong incentive to practice the languages they learn.

Find a foreign magazine or newspaper that suits your kid's tastes (snowboard, italian art, french fashion, russian chess, ...) and offer him a year of subscription. Make him want to show it off in his school (not very moral, but you want him to be proud of his language learning, don't you ?).

Try to spend vacations in countries speaking the target foreign language. If you don't speak it and your kid does, make him feel important several month in advance, telling him that he'll be your guide and that the whole family will have to rely on his language skills during the vacations. That should motivate him to learn as much as he can to proudly use his new skills before you.

If you have several children, you can either foster a moderate sibling rivalry by playing who does speak spanish best, or encourage each kid to learn a different language, preserving his individuality. The latter may be better for the youngest, as they probably won't like to be measured to their elder's performances, especially if these are very good and unreachable. A different language would then allow the younger to have his own, irreductible realm.

Find a spanish speaking maid, who does not speak much english, and encourage her to speak to the children in spanish. Thus they will learn half the language while playing !

There are many, many books, cassettes, CD-ROM's, videos for language learning nowadays. If you can, buy several and use them jointly. A new CD-ROM can spark interest and curiosity from a kid that would otherwise be bored by traditional methods.

As you already know that language teaching in schools is totally unsufficient to really learn a language, why won't you hire a private teacher a few hours a week ? In many areas this is not very expensive and it's much more efficient than group learning.

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