Often, when considering teaching young children a new language (and an immersion experience is not possible) the first thing that comes to mind are word groups like colors, numbers, days of the week, the alphabet.
This can produce a sense of accomplishment for adults and kids alike. And depending on the goals of the language instruction, this might be enough. But to set a child on the road to fluency, we suggest an alternate path.
Teach young people phrases that can be used for REAL communication, and start adopting language into your normal routine. I began teaching my kids at meal time. This approach works both at home and in the classroom. Adjust the questions to match a daily event. Maybe snack time.
DO YOU WANT MILK OR WATER?
I love how simple this is, and how much you’re actually accomplishing.
- You are talking about something the child likely WANTS. So there’s motivation.
- You are giving them a choice, that requires an answer. So there’s a reason to speak.
- You are providing the answer in the question. So it’s easy to succeed.
Begin by expecting an utterance of just the word for MILK or for WATER. And as that gets comfortable, require that they make a whole sentence. I WANT MILK.
Do you see how this goes…? Before long you’re asking if they want a BIG or SMALL drink? And language grows from there.
And colors and numbers will be part of it, but it’ll serve as a support for communication. HOW MANY CARROTS DO YOU WANT? DO YOU WANT A RED APPLE OR A GREEN APPLE?
It’s how we learn our first language — we might sing the alphabet song to young kids, but we learn language by needing to understand and be understood. Give them phrases, and then use them…!