How to Begin Introducing Your Toddler to a Second Language--Even if You Aren't a Speaker

If you are wondering when is a good time to teach a second language, the answer is almost always yesterday. Basically, before the age of 3 kids have a super-sharp ability to hear different pronunciations. Because of this, many experts agree that one of the most effective ways to teach a language is through bilingual immersion, which means that the new language is spoken exclusively to the child and the idea is that they learn the new one the same way as they learned their native language. For instance, one parent in a household would speak English and the other only Spanish.

But there are other ways to accomplish this as well. Even if you aren’t bilingual yourself, use this as an opportunity for you and your child to learn a new language together!

  • By simply just hearing a TV show or music that is in another language, they are learning the basics now to be able to speak it later. This of course isn’t enough on its own to learn a language fluently but it does help them understand phrases when they do eventually hear them.
  • Create labels for things around your house. Tape index cards to the furniture, appliances, and other everyday items that have the word written in both the child’s native language as well as in the second language.
  • Keep it fun! The more fun it is to learn something, the more likely a child will stick with it. Language Littles Dolls speak in both English and one of 10 other languages to choose from. Leap Frog has a lot of educational apps on their website available for purchase in a variety of languages.
  • Keep it stress-free. Each child learns in their own time and the more relaxed they feel about learning, the more they will learn!
  • Incorporate it into the bedtime routine as part of a “lesson recap.” Talk about what was their favorite word they learned that day, what word they thought sounded funny and have a fun, mini conversation with words you both already know. 
  • Try to find their favorite books in another language. Chances are, your child has a story that they know by heart from front to back. By hearing you read the words, them scanning the sentences along with you, and using the pictures as context they will be able to translate the book as they go.

Lisa is a baby-wearing, breastfeeding, cloth diapering mama that is currently pursuing a graduate degree in elementary education.

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