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Language Lessons for Kids

Christine Koh
Jan. 5, 2010

Choosing the best foreign language instruction for your child


As families and communities become more diverse, foreign language instruction is becoming more common for kids at young ages. While many schools require foreign language instruction in middle or high school, parents are also choosing to teach their kids foreign languages earlier.


Embarking on language lessons requires commitment both from the child and parent. Consider these factors as you decide on when and how to start:

  • Age: Private language instruction can begin as early as 6 months, but if you want to pursue classes this early, investigate your options to find a class that is appropriately suited for your child's developmental stage. For example, baby/toddler language classes should be based around play and song, not classroom-type instruction.
  • Think about the desired result: Is your family international and you wish for your children to learn a language so??they can communicate with non-English speaking relatives? Do you wish to simply expose your child to the broader world? Are you eager to have your child master a language to provide an edge when it's time for school applications? The desired result will impact what kind of instruction you seek.
  • Temperament matters: Is your child busy and constantly on the go? Is your child able to focus on activities for considerable stretches of time? Consider temperament when you think about language-learning environment. Your child will best benefit from instruction if it is a good match for the types of activities she enjoys.
  • Make it fun first: The ability to speak another language is a wonderful skill, but it's important that above all, your kid gets to be a kid. As you look for language lesson providers, seek teaching environments that make the experience creative and fun for kids. Then follow up by finding ways to make the lesson outcomes enjoyable and meaningful, whether it's travel to a place where the language is spoken, interacting with cultural groups in the community, or having regular contact with relatives who speak the same language.

Methods/Participation Levels

  • At home: At-home instruction typically involves studying from purchased programs or books. Parental involvement will be key. Given that consistent correction helps facilitate learning, having a parent converse in the language is helpful, or some parents look for nannies or other child care providers who speak a certain language to provide additional reinforcement.
  • At school: At-school instruction can reflect required language classes (typically beginning in middle school), after school or weekend programs, or immersion programs and bilingual schools that integrate language into the curriculum. These programs all offer a means for kids to interact in a group setting around language and culture.
  • Private: Private programs or private tutors can accelerate progress, and classes can begin at the toddler stage or even as early as 6 months if parents wish to expose children to a foreign language as early as possible.

Language lessons will be most enriching if the teaching strategy is fun, engaging, and appropriately structured for your child's age and temperament.

Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned freelance writer, editor, and designer. She is the editor of BostonMamas.com and the artist behind PoshPeacock.com.

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