This is a guest post from the amazing Gail Harriott, the CEO of the startup LabbaYo.com. Gail is a native of Jamaica, where the official language is English but the local dialect, patois, is influenced by residents who came from African, India, China, nearby Haiti and Cuba. Her heritage and observing her son as he navigates his multilingual community sparked a desire to focus on kids learning foreign languages and helping to make it more accessible to other families.
Let’s turn it over to Gail!
There are many resources available to help you teach your kids a foreign language – even if you aren’t fluent. You can easily learn yourself how to speak fluently in only 2 or 3 months here. We now know that it is important to introduce our kids to new languages while they are still young. It helps improve test scores, executive function, cognitive abilities and their curiosity about the world around them. It also certainly helps them maneuver through the world better – see Malia Obama interpret for President Obama on his first trip to Cuba. So how do you help your kids get started?
1. Library Books, CDs and DVDs
Most local libraries have children’s material available in foreign languages that are meant to teach the basic language skills. They range in topics from the alphabet, first words, sight words, short stories and chapter books. These have a very low intimidation factor and are free!
2. Foreign Language Cartoons
Cartoons are a great way of keeping children engaged. They don’t seem to mind if it is in a foreign language and will learn through context, repetition and songs. If you look around you can find foreign language versions of your favorite English-language cartoons. Many are online, on broadcast TV channels or on cable TV.
3. Language Immersion School
Not all neighborhoods have language immersion schools available and they can be pricey in some cities. But if you do have immersion programs near you, they allow children to learn a second language in a similar manner to the way that they have learned their first. Immersion programs use the target language for instruction and communication. You will find that many programs offered by Cultural Care Au Pair will bring your children together and develop their skills.
A great way to learn naturally is through socialization and play. Initiate get-togethers with local families. Your local park, playground, or even your child’s school might have families who are native speakers. Strike up a conversation and get the kids together– it’s amazing what you can learn from each other!
5. Childcare from a Native Speaker
Find a native language speaker who can babysit. We’ve benefited from 2 hours every week. I encouraged our sitter to speak her native language with my son. Over time he has developed an ear for the language, so much so that another native speaker at preschool thought he was fluent because he understood her so well.
6. Apps and Educational Tools
My kid loves his iPad and playing with apps. There are many out there that can get kids started. I am CEO of LabbaYo, where we offer a free kids’ app that removes the intimidation factor around teaching a new language. Our app works with our beautifully designed flash cards to help kids perfect their pronunciation. This is great for independent play as well as learning together.
It goes without saying that the ultimate immersion is traveling to locations where the language is spoken. So, whenever possible, get out there and take your kids on adventures!