“Whichever career our children choose, knowing another language can never be detrimental,” Chen says. “Many people believe Americans are ignorant to the outside world. By learning another language, which help’s children learn about cultures, we can prove those who think Americans are ignorant wrong.”
Parents who are worried about the toll learning another language can take on children’s schedules shouldn’t fear. Many classes, like the ones offered at the New York Chinese Cultural Center or the Nasledie Center, are offered weekly or several times per week. Additional cultural classes—usually dance—that use the language that is being studied are often offered as well. Classes are often more laidback than at traditional schools; children complete a variety of activities including singing songs, playing games, or making crafts to learn the language. Older students may use workbooks.
Even if parents don’t understand the language, they can still help their children learn it, Chen says.
“Chinese is not the easiest language to learn, and a little motivation goes a long way,” Chen says. “Parents can also take Chinese with the kids and learn with them. This way, they can both practice it together at home. Many of our parents regret not having learned Mandarin at a younger age and don’t want their kids to go though the same thing.”
Although their children will pick up the new language first, parents shouldn’t be frustrated.
“After age 12 learning a brand new language can be much more difficult, but it’s not impossible,” says Tamara Krokhmal of the Nasledie Center. “We encourage children and adults of any age to consider the many benefits of learning a new language. Bilingual individuals can apply their language skills if traveling abroad, too.”
Parents don’t have to learn another language for their children’s language acquisition to be successful. There are many songs and nursery rhymes available on the BBC website. Children who are already avid readers can get copies of books like Bob the Builder in French (“Bob le Bricoleur”). Little Red Riding Hood becomes “Cappuccetto Rosso” in Italian. Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer editions have been translated into multiple languages as well. Toys, games, and flashcards exist in multiple languages, too. If you’re child is enrolled in language classes, ask her teacher for recommendations.
Older children who know the basics of a foreign language have more options for practicing speaking, reading, and writing. They can find a pen pal they would like to exchange emails with. Those who like computer and video games may choose to learn through those avenues; the Muzzy series, My Spanish Coach, or free language podcasts from iTunes are also popular.
For concrete suggestions about how to teach your child a language you do not know, check out our suggested tips and tricks.