3 Tips to Help Older Children Learn a Second Language

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


When Joe and I started to talk about having a child, one thing was absolutely clear to me: I wanted to have bi-cultural children -children who would not only speak French but who would also claim French as their dual nationality and culture.
Then Léo was born and I spoke… English. 99% of the time I spoke English. Major. Fail! I did enroll him in an amazing French school when he was 3 and during the two years he was there he learnt… well, not much! He could count and speak a few words, probably understand quite a bit but I still spoke English at home, so he never had any incentive to practice. Jude never ever went to French school because we moved right as he was turning 2 -when he could have integrated the French school. So now I have 2 boys (age 2 and 5) who do not speak or understand French. Léo even refuses to speak the few words he knows when I Skype with my family. Both are 100% American. I feel terrible. Shame, shame.

But after listening to a great podcast yesterday (episode 26, "Bringing up a bilingual child"), I feel a bit more encouraged. The host said she wanted her children to speak German but she’s never spoken to her children (who are about the same age as my boys) in that language until now -and they look at her like she’s mad anytime she utters a word in German. I feel her pain! The guest offered these 3 suggestions, which I’m going to try to follow:

-          1- Find what motivates the child to learn another language. It has to be something that is relevant to the child today. For instance, telling Léo that his brain is going to develop in wonderful ways and that he’ll earn more as an adult if he’s bilingual won’t be good reasons to learn French.

-          2- Find one activity that can be done in the minority language. For instance, watching cartoons. Another suggestion was to have a pet that only understands the minority language. We already have a pet -but maybe bringing in a stuffed animal would do the trick?

-          3- Offer various ways to hear the language: books, tv, play groups, and (the best!) immerse the child in the language for a couple of week by going to a place where people only speak that language. So I might bring the kids to Paris in the summer in addition to having my family visit us here.

The podcast really inspired me and made me feel like less of a failure. This year, it is my goal to introduce more French to them. I need to be steady and consistent. I'm encouraged!


If you have raised bilingual children successfully I’d love to hear your tips, especially if you started when they were a bit older.

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