100 Ways to Encourage Foreign Language Learning

Little Artists pictures2
100th day of school is a huge thing in some countries. It also a sign that at least half of the school year has passed.  To celebrate 100th day of school, 20 bloggers from Kid Blogger Network have joined together to bring you some exciting activities and information related to education.
While I do mention multilingualism on my blog and I post activities that I do with children in my ESL and other classes, I don’t post much on the theory or practical advice on how to encourage foreign language learning. Participating in 100th day of school is a great chance for me to summarize my thoughts and ideas and the ones of fellow bloggers and put together a good collection that anyone can easily access and use when they decide to add a foreign language in their household or assist their child with learning one at school.
In every language we have 4 aspects: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Then we have grammar and phonetics (pronunciation and spelling). Since all languages are different and so is the writing system (some use Cyrillic alphabet, some – Latin, some use special character that need to be memorized, some use character system where characters are linked into syllables and words and more). Nevertheless, the general idea of encouraging any language learning is the same. I have seen it with Russian, English, French, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hindi, Tamil and few more languages whose structures I have actually studied either thoroughly or just for comparative reasons.
If you noticed, I stress all 4 parts of speech: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. All 4 should be in balance and since they are interconnected it is hard to write about one without writing about another.
Before you proceed to reading the recommendations below, I want to answer a question which I am often asked: When is the best time to start learning a foreign language? My answer: NOW. And with children – as early as possible. Despite some popular opinions on language confusion, children actually have much more structured approach to languages which we still don’t understand and introducing more than 1 language at an early age results even if not in fluency of the other languages (besides a mother tongue) but at least in grasping the concept of other languages and it makes it easier for children to learn and understand foreign languages down the road of the lives.
Below are in fact over 100 ideas on how to encourage foreign language learning organized into 50+ main points. My fellow bloggers are offering many great ideas so I didn’t want to sound too repetitive and just offered you their links for reference.  Enjoy!
1. First things first: whether you speak the language you would like to introduce or not,  all you need is your desire to start. And patience. It will be the world of discoveries for you and your child. Here are some interesting posts from my fellow bloggers over at Multicultural Kid Blogs Community:
Open Wide the WorldIntroducing Second Language to Your Toddler… Even if You Aren’t Bilingual
Kid World CitizenBilingualism in Adoptive Families
                                              Benefits of Being Multilingual
Wander Mama –          Fostering Language: A Family Affair
Bilingual  Kids RockHow to Raise a Bilingual Child
Miss Panda ChineseBilingual Parenting Tips
Spanish Playground21 Ideas to Add Spanish to Bedtime
In the Playroom –           Helping Your Child’s Speech and Language
Trilingual Mama –           Encouraging Baby Talk
Dad’s The Way I like ItBeing a Bilingual Parent
2. Start out slowly. Even 5 minutes a day are productive over a long period of time. I have students who come to study once a week, 1 hour at a time. They simply review at home whenever they can. And over a long period of time they do get understanding and feeling of the language.
3. A child is a child. There will be reluctance, short attention span, you will forget, skip and switch languages. Don’t give up – start again the next day!
4. We have what is called active memory and passive memory. Active memory contains vocabulary and knowledge which we use daily. Passive memory contains the rest. Give your child a credit and you’ll be amazed to notice that even though he/she used to run around during a cartoon session or your , as would seem at the time futile, attempts to introduce the flashcards, he/she will suddenly utter words that you didn’t even know he/she knew!
5. Don’t stress too much if you don’t see any progress. Have fun and remember – you are learning too!
6. Don’t be afraid of your own accent – we ALL have accents. Even the Native speakers who live in different countries where the language is native or even different parts of the same country.
7. Your own confidence is really the key. I am not talking about being determined to push the language at whatever cost – I am talking about you believing in your abilities. My mother, who barely speaks English, helps my nephew with his English homework. And my nephew’s English is much better than hers. She just believes in her ability and she takes time to understand and help him.
8. You can designate a room in the house where everyone only speaks a certain language. It is a good reminder, especially for older children, and helps them get more organized. It also helps children who are reluctant to speak foreign languages at home.
9. You can also choose days of the week when you only speak a foreign language. A friend of mine who is also raising trilingual children (he is Russian, his wife is Chinese and they speak English to each other) has successfully implemented “1 day – 1 language” principle. So, say, Monday they speak Russian, Tuesday – English, Wednesday – Chinese, Thursday – Russian again, Friday – English, Saturday – Chinese. And Sunday – they mix languages. Of course that was done within the comfort of their home. If they went out – they had to speak whatever language that was required at that point of time.
10. Take an opportunity – travel with your child! It doesn’t have to be the physical travel. You can travel virtually too! In other words – study geography with your child. Especially of the countries where people speak the language you are encouraging.
Here are few resources you can use to introduce geography to encourage language learning:
The Educator’s Spin On ItPinterest Board on Bilingual Babies and World’s Geography.
Kid World CitizenSpending the Summer Abroad: Mexico.
Learn to Play At Home5 Top Tips to Prepare your Child for Overseas Travel
Dad’s the Way I Like ItBeing a Multilingual and Multimedia Parent
11. Use Internet to find pen pals and Skype with Kids Around the World like Kid World Citizen does!
12. Take the travel and geography further: move to another country. Total immersion is always the best way to go!
Read about Glittering Muffin‘s experience on their Move (almost) Across a Bilingual Country.
13. Don’t be afraid to use media (TV programs, cartoons, movies, radio) to help your child learn: they DO learn and pick up faster. Just remember moderation! I have vaguely covered this topic before in my post Top 10 Ways to Utilize Screen Time for Learning. 
14. My favorite part of learning any language is… craft. Yes, craft! Because you can do so much with craft: learn and review words, phrases, make cultural craft of the country where people speak the language and more!
Check out the following posts:
Kid World CitizenUsing Craft for Language Learning
Creative World of Varya – Creative Tuesday: Fun With Alphabet
15. Cook together. I am participating in a great project – Around The World in 12 Dishes and every month we travel to a different country to explore the culture through cooking a dish or two. It has also helped my picky eater to dare to try some new foods. Here is some more on the subject:
Miss Panda ChineseLet’s Make Chinese Dumplings!
Creative World of VaryaAround the World in 12 Dishes
16. Sing and dance! Music always helps the learning process. I use music in my home and in my classes to encourage language development and creativity.
Miss Panda Chinese has a number of videos on her YouTube channel where she uses music for learning.
17. Rhymes, poems, story books – read to and with your child. And you can always translate them to give your child a better understanding, just like I wrote about it my guest post for Multicultural Kid Blogs.
18. Sticking to the concept “1 parent – 1 language” has helped many families with nurturing a second/third/foreign language.
19. However, switching languages when your child is older is fine – the Piri-piri Lexicon wrote a great post on how it does work well for families. I quote: “It requires a very large amount of linguistic competence and is usually a good indicator of the said competence “.
20. Learn about history of the language and history of the countries. It helps children understand cultural aspects and relate to the people who speak this language.
21. Learn about and do something to commemorate/celebrate special occasions of the countries where the language is spoken. Here, I get back to cooking dishes, making craft, singing folk songs and even dressing up in national costumes.
22. We have been given technology for a reason: not to self-engage when we are out and ignore the rest of the world, but to help us with easing our lives. There are tons of applications you can download for your children to encourage language learning. Here are some suggestions for fellow bloggers:
Miss Panda ChineseTop 5 Chinese Learning Apps for Kids
23. Language games. Especially young children learn best through play. Memory game, find something…, I spy…
Here are some ideas on how to do it:
Multilingual ParentingThe Game of the Day – Word Play!
Multilingual ParentingFun Games with Words
Raising a Trilingual ChildMixing Art, Material Objects and Imagination.
24. Board games. Using your child’s favorite board games you can introduce new vocabulary and practice old. Figuring out the steps in a foreign language adds to the fun!
25.  Introducing phonetic system and phonetic awareness by listening, reading, writing and speaking them out.
You can see how it is done over at Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes in Frances’s post on Spanish Syllables: Learning to Read which we wrote for Spanish Playground.
Here’s another interesting approach to introduction of the phonetic system by Raising Trilingual Children in their post Teaching The Letter Sounds Before Teaching Letter Names.
26. Working on pronunciation. And by that I don’t mean the accent – I mean correct pronunciation of sounds and words. Here are some tips from Raising a Trilingual Child on how to correct your child’s pronunciation problems.
Here’s a good example on how to use your mother tongue to associate with the sounds in a foreign language – Sarah of A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy introduces the concept in her post on English Pronunciation: Letter H.
27. Pre-writing and writing. Learning shapes, tracing, scribbling, coloring letters and later practising their writing – all of this helps with language development as you can use verbs, adjectives, nouns and adverbs in the process for children to hear and understand (let’s trace! let’s color! color it green! show me your letter!).
28. Labels around the house – this is one of my most favorite parts of learning the language! Glittering Muffins offers these print outs for French and English playroom labels. Making some yourself or have your child help you make them will add to the fun! Spanish Playground suggest 40 Ways to Use Sticky Notes to Teach Kids Spanish – great tips that are suitable for other languages too.
29. Making memories in new language. The Educator’s Spin on it offers a great idea on making a Family Book and Paper Bag Color Book.
30. In Russian we have a saying, that literally translates as “Repetition – is the Mother of Learning”. In other words, repeat, repeat and repeat again as that is how children remember words!
31. Explore your surroundings. Whenever you go out – talk about things like The Educator’s Spin on It does and use environmental print to help them remember. With younger babies you can collect and make herbariums, seashells, rocks, bring them home and use to make collages with labels.
32. Shopping. It is another great way to encourage language development in general – take your time going shopping, let your child touch safe items and name them together. It works great for young babies too, especially if they are reluctant to sit in the cart or the pram.
33. Flashcards. Make them or buy them. They are great, especially for babies. A friend of mine instructed her nanny to sit down with her at that time infant and show her the cards and name them in Chinese. She did it in 2 other languages as well. I think it is brilliant. I use flashcards with my children as well.
34. Talk to your child. Even if he/she responds in another language – continue speaking the language you want to introduce.
35. Encourage your child to answer in the same language. Ask simple questions that require simple answers.
36. If you are teaching your own mother tongue to your children – make sure to show them your pride of your heritage.
Here are 2 articles that mention this concept:
Laguno – Tackling Preschool Worries When Raising Bilingual and Bicultural Children.
Bilingual Kids Rock – How to Foster Children’s Pride in Their Minority Culture and Language
37. Improvise with your children’s food and snack like Raising a Trilingual Child!
38. Catch the grammar early. It is ok to correct your child. However, it shouldn’t be done in the following manner: “No! We don’t say like that! We say like this!” Instead, rephrase what your child said. E.g. My older daughter still mixes regular and irregular verbs in past tense (which is ok, she is only 5!). So she would say something like: “We goed there yesterday” to which I say: “That’s right! We went there yesterday!” Here’s an insightful post from Raising a Trilingual  ChildShould I Correct My Child’s Speaking?
39. Involve your child’ all 5 senses into the language learning, just as Trilingual Mama suggests in her post about Reinforcing Language Through Manual Activities.
40. Even as Native speakers we sometimes don’t use grammar correctly. Getting some insights on proper grammar and educating ourselves helps us introduce the language at its best.
41. Motivate the children. I like some suggestions from A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy where she talks about Motivating Children in Class. These tips could be applied to your own household.
42. Reward your child. Any system you use in general will work. Stickers, stamps, words of encouragement – whatever works for you!
43. Memorize some simple quotations, proverbs and sayings.
44. Use tongue-twisters – they help with pronunciation and they are simply fun!
45. Organize movie nights for the whole family related to the language you learn.
46. Involve friends and family. If you know anyone who speaks even a bit of the language you are encouraging in your family – let your children practice with them.
47. There is always tutoring. This can be expensive, but if you can afford it – it sometimes helps a child learn better with an actual teacher than at home. And at home you can review!
48. Homework. Yes. Homework. It can be anything – from coloring a picture, to writing few lines of words.
49.  Organize theme parties for your child’s friends by using cultural aspects, food and craft from the countries of the languages you learn.
50. Visit museums and exhibitions if possible to discover more about cultures and countries.
51. Take your older children to language summer camps. They would love it!
52. Give your child an opportunity to apply for a scholarship in another country!
53. Host an exchange student.
54. Let your child to be an exchange student – it is a fun experience.
55. If you are a family who is willing to adopt a child – try international adoption. I highly recommend in this case reading more over at Kid World Citizen as they have successful experience and share it on their blog.
56. Encourage your child to write a journal in the foreign language – writing and expressing thoughts is what helped me improve my English tremendously when I was much younger.
If you notice that I haven’t covered an idea or a way to encourage foreign language learning – share with me! I’ll be happy to add it and credit you!
Check out the landing page by clicking on the picture below for 100th Day of School!


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