3 Ways parents can help kids learn a world language

3 Ways parents can help kids learn a world language

My tween starts her foreign language class at school in the fall. She is taking French, which seems far different than the little Spanish I know and that she’s learned up to this point. I wondered what parents could do to help their kids as they embark upon the adventure that is learning a new language.

Please help me welcome today’s guest poster, Erin Petron Gosser, aka Social Butterfly Mom. I asked Erin, a long-time French teacher, to please share what she wishes her students’ parents had done to make their kids successful world language learners.


Alors, your tween is starting her first foreign world language class this fall. Before you get excited to hear your estudiante sing along to Edith Piaf, or perfectly accent her Spanish on your next trip south of the border, let me be Debbie Downer for une seconde:

Around age 10, kids become very inhibited and self conscious. By age 12, when many American students begin their world language studies, it is very unlikely that they will want anything to do with this foreign subject. The risk of making a mistake is very high in these unchartered waters, and appearing stupid (or smart, for that matter) in front of her peers is a tween’s worst nightmare.

Amidst all this merde, there is still hope.

Here are three things you can do to foster your child’s language learning:

1) Do NOT force the speaking.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the more you push your kid to do something, the more she recoils. Think back to when your kid was a baby. When did she utter her first word? 15, 18, 20 months?

There is a silent period that all language learners go through in which they may seem to be aloof, but they are taking it all in.

I’ll tell you when your kid will be fluent: when you send her abroad. Start saving now and stop asking if she knows all of her verbs.

2) Invest in language learning.

While you may scoff at the cost of trips abroad, there is much you can do, at home, to support your tween.

  • Rosetta Stone: Focuses on all four language domains (listening, speaking, reading, writing). It’s one of the best kid/family programs out there.
  • PimsleurAural/oral language learning. This program enables the learner to understand and speak at a basic conversational level. I used this program before a trip to Germany (German) and a trip to Morocco (Arabic). While it may be a bit above age appropriate level for a tween, it’s great to listen to in the car. I always appreciated the chance to hear multiple native speakers.
  • MoviesAural/oral language learning. Make a monthly date to go see or rent a foreign film. Set your family’s favorite DVD to Spanish or French. If your tween is studying a less common language, check out your local library. Amazon is always your friend. (Bonus: This also improves literacy, as your kid will, no doubt, be reading the English subtitles.)

3) Try something new yourself.

Maybe you purchase Rosetta Stone and participate in language learning with your tween. Perhaps you take a class or teach yourself a skill via YouTube. I suggest this last point because, for some of us adults, it has been a looong time since we had to learn something new; since we had that uncomfortable feeling of not knowing. This experience will give you empathy for your kid. You can giggle at your bloopers and high five your triumphs.

De mon part, I’ve spoken French with my son about 75% of the time since he was born. He’ll be three in July. Rarement will he vocally respond to me in French, but he understands everything I say to him.

Why, just the other day, I asked him (in French) if he was hungry. We had just read the French version of Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” He said to me, “Yeah, mommy. I’m faim (hungry) like the chenille (caterpillar).” It took me nearly three years, and I’m finally getting some franglais out of this kid!

Be patient with your language learner, show her the importance of what she’s studying, and maybe learn something new yourself. Bonne chance!

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Erin!

About Erinavatar

“Your life will never be the same after a kid!” Um, duh. I’m a French teacher turned stay-at-home mom who strives to maintain her social life with and without her kid. By day, a French speaking, cloth diaper changing, baker extraordinaire in both real and pretend kitchens. By night, a cabaret performer, below average triathlete, and club hopper. (Book club, that is.) Email at: thesocialbutterflymom@gmail.com and you can find her on Facebook at Social Butterfly Mom.

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