What’s the best way to teach children a language?

How to teach kids a second language?

This is an important question. Numerous studies have shown that command of a foreign language can have a dramatic affect on so many aspects of your child’s life. Perhaps it is obvious that a child with a second language enjoys a different cultural perspective and can expect more enjoyable holidays. But did you know that children with proficiency in a second language can expect to earn more, have more career options, be more creative and even enjoy mental health benefits?  It is easy to see how a second language offers so much more than just another subject to notch up on the cv.

A second language is an asset that stays with you for life.

So the question really is: How best to acquire a second language for my child?

Language Acquisition for Kids

At the risk of sounding trite and stating the obvious – the first rules for language learning for kids is to make it fun. If learning is a miserable experience, you and your child won’t get far.

However, right here we need a big NEON WARNING SIGN because it is at this precise point that many aspiring parents make their first mistake and reach for the nearest and most fun looking resource for kids – without looking under the bonnet and seeing if it actually works. The fact is it is easy to be suckered by slickly marketed bilingual toys and materials that look like fun. They make some carefully worded claims. However if they do not embed proven language principles then they may provide fun – but will fall short of meaningfully teaching a language.

Language Resources for kids to avoid

Fortunately there is in fact a large amount of research on language learning for children to inform us what does and does not work. This unbiased information is often crowded out by all the noise around many slickly marketed products. To help us through the noise, Language Professors Kendall Mackey, Ph. D and Alison Mackey, Ph.D in their excellent book, The Bilingual Edge,  look through all the data and warn of the many resources that simply do not work. They are especially dismissive of:

  • Foreign TV
  • Language DVDs
  • Talking Toys
  • Many software programs

The fact is that that these and many other language products, in their words, make

“many promises that end in disappointment – in part because these products and programs are unfortunately not based on what science tells us about how children actually learn languages”

If these types of language resources are to be avoided, what does work?

Language Resources for kids that do work

Fortunately our language professors are equally clear about what characteristics language resources for children should have. We have already stated one: Fun!  The other key ingredient is Human Interaction. The human does not have to be a teacher or fluent in the second language – just someone who wants to support the learner…a helping parent is perfect.

Equipped with that knowledge we can now look for tools which will incorporate those qualities. Specifically our professors recommend:

  • Real Language Games (as opposed to virtual ones)
  • Reading stories with your child and working on the words together
  • Active Speaking – role playing – as opposed to point and click, repetition, TV or audio.
  • Incorporating language into everyday routines: naming food by their foreign name, singing silly songs together, exchanging pleasantries in the foreign language….
Please see at the end of this blog links to other posts with top tips to learn a language at home.

A foreign language game that ticks the boxes

We have created KLOO, a real world language game that incorporates all of the scientific language principles above. Players make sentences and learn words to score points and power little motor cars in a race to Paris, Madrid or London. It is fast, furious and fun – and learners are usually amazed at how quickly they pick up the language. KLOO has won 6 major awards – more than any other language game ever. In 2011 it won the Toytalk Best Board and Card Game. Many schools have started using the game to enthuse children and make it more fun.

The board game version comes with four decks each focusing on an important aspect of the language: ‘People’, ‘Food & Drink’, ‘Places’ and ‘Everyday Objects’. Currently you can learn French, Spanish or English as a foreign language with KLOO.

Check out how easy it is to learn how to make thousands of sentences with each deck of KLOO cards. Have fun!


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