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What are some good ways to learn languages at home with a toddler?
August 8, 2014 11:18 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my toddler learn a new language? Is there something that we'd also enjoy and learn from, as a family? There was a previous post, without any leads, beyond Pocoyo.

My son is almost three, and he loves music, letter and numbers. Pocoyo in English is fun, but we haven't tried Pocoyo in Spanish, so I'd be willing to give that a go. I tried to see if he'd be interested in Muzzy, but no such luck.

Our TV doubles as a rather large computer monitor, so we can run anything for a Windows PC on our TV. We also a Kindle Fire, if there are good apps. We have two free Rosetta Stone for kids apps (Kids Lingo Letter Sounds and Kids Lingo Word Builder, both English reading and Spanish speaking, ages 3 - 6), and a Duolingo free app (multi-lingual, age range not specified), but we haven't tried those yet, either. Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Education (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Exposure. Exposure exposure exposure. Especially with actual live people. Can you get him in a non-English-speaking daycare or playgroup or something? That would be way better than anything recorded, but just putting on Spanish TV or radio is better than nothing. If you speak any other language, even at like 2-years-of-high-school level, start using it with him.
posted by brainmouse at 11:30 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


My friend recommended I look at Gus On The Go when I was complaining about my non-existent German because her 3 year old son is having a lot of fun and success with it. I haven't tried it yet but it's definitely aimed at very small children like your son so look into it. There are iPhone and Android apps which aren't free but aren't expensive, so I don't know how that would work for you.

Gus is a cute little owl btw.
posted by shelleycat at 11:55 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


> Exposure. Exposure exposure exposure. Especially with actual live people. Can you get him in a non-English-speaking daycare or playgroup or something? That would be way better than anything recorded, but just putting on Spanish TV or radio is better than nothing.

Yeah, this is what I was going to say.

> If you speak any other language, even at like 2-years-of-high-school level, start using it with him.

This, however, I strongly disagree with. Why should a child learn Shitty Spanish (or whatever) as a native language? Do you realize how hard it will be to unlearn the bad habits instilled at such an early age?
posted by languagehat at 3:07 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I agree that learning another language when you're young is both a laudable goal and huge challenge, even for bilingual families with a great deal of education and determination. I say this as a bilingual language teacher myself who has studied the topic and also hopes to raise multilingual children. I've seen it done successfully but I've also seen how incredibly hard that is and often without the desired results. People CAN become bilingual even if they don't start learning a language until later in life, like during the early teen years or even as adult, especially if they live abroad, so there's a lot of potential in the long-run no matter what.

It sounds like you realize that an immersion-style environment is just not possible at home but are simply trying to extend his knowledge, which is cool. There's a term in German used in language acquisition work that doesn't quite translate to English called "sensibilisieren" It's a mix of raising interest and awareness, increasing cultural knowledge, and becoming prepared to start more formal instruction later on. For that, I totally recommend looking for a public school immersion program or private language classes that you could enroll him in. In the meantime, stuff like Muzzy or children's books and videos can help. I'd try to connect with Spanish-speaking families in your area to see if there might be interest in an exchange of sorts, like where you take turns hosting an English-Spanish playgroup although the logistics can be quite complicated. You can go to "authentic" shops and reading hours and local Latino/Hispanic festivals and, for example, mass in Spanish if you're so inclined. This is all tricky because you'd want to be sure to establish a genuine and mutually beneficial relationship with the families, which takes time and a lot of effort as it literally is a different language and culture, as you know, but it's definitely worth trying!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:31 PM on August 8


How can I help my toddler learn a new language?

Be a fluent speaker of that language and speak in that language to your toddler all of the time.

I am the father of two young children whom my wife and I are raising bilingually (English and Japanese) in the US. I have spoken about it before here, here, and here, among other comments. Cliffs Notes version: my wife and I are both fluent speakers of English and Japanese. We speak Japanese at home, and it takes conscious effort by both of us every day to make sure they speak and read at an age-appropriate level. Details are in the linked comments, but the disappointing answer is that children do not acquire a language with magical ease. (not even their native language)

A child will not acquire Spanish from occasional attendance at a Spanish-speaking playgroup or watching Spanish kids' shows every day. Children, just like anyone else, don't acquire a language unless they have to. If you or no other adult in the house speaks Spanish, it is not reasonable to think that your child will acquire Spanish. Don't get me wrong - I bet the Rosetta Stone games are fun and he will learn how to count to vente but they aren't going to make your son a speaker of Spanish. Anecdatum: my mother is a native speaker of Spanish and I was, too, when I was your son's age. I am now a non-native speaker of Spanish.

Oh, another anecdatum about play groups: a lot of my children's friends are also Japanese speakers. When all the Japanese-speaking kids get together to play, they speak to each other in English.

Duolingo is not appropriate for a toddler because it is largely based on translation such as here (PC screenshot but the mobile app works the same way). I think it would be boring and too difficult for such a young child. You might like it, though. It is very popular.

If your son has fun with these language learning apps, I think that is great! Toddlers should have fun all day long. But, just keep realistic expectations about what these apps can and cannot do. Don't be worried about a "critical period" for acquiring a second language. He can learn any language he wants when he gets older, if he wants.

I'm not trying to be a wet blanket, but trying to manage expectations based on my years as the father of bilingual children. Don't get disappointed if he just learns a few phrases and words. I hope you get comments from other parents raising multilingual children.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:32 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


> Just putting on Spanish TV or radio is better than nothing.

Not according to actual science it ain't:
http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies

This is a really interesting talk about child language acquisition, and the vital role of real live human beings in the learning process.
posted by ZipRibbons at 4:55 PM on August 8




My 6yo child is bilingual. I speak only English to him, my wife only Spanish. We live in Chile, but he goes to a nominally full English immersion grade school (in reality it's more like 50% eng 50% spa). He's the best student in the English class, natch, and is presented as a role model by the teachers.

I learned English in the US at 3, so I'm pretty close to native.

He speaks English OK, with some Chilean accent, but pretty good vocab and grammar. He picks up a lot of vocabulary and idioms from watching youtube videos (mostly minecraft let's plays and those animated objects on an island reality shows). He code switches like a pro, inter- and intra-sentence.

Lately we've noticed he sometimes mixes up english and spanish grammar, using constructs of one language in the other. I'm not too stressed because I do it too. He's starting to read in English. I read him comic books in English every night (Bone, mostly) and he reads the sound effects. He can also read short books, but he's probably about half a year further behind in English reading than in Spanish.

It hasn't been hard at all for me, but I think my antisocial tendencies help, as I don't care if I get funny looks for speaking English to my son in a strongly monolingual country like Chile.
posted by signal at 10:15 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


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