How to Choose a Language Program for Your Little One

Introducing our children to a world language is the easy part. How to ensure our child is enjoying the experience and how to keep our child interested is a bit more challenging. For those contemplating whether to embark on this endeavor, you are probably considering signing your child up for group lessons; hiring a part-time or full-time caregiver who will speak to your child in the target language; or signing up for an immersion summer camp.  All of these are excellent ideas, but the key is to ensure that it is the right fit for your child.

Spanish interactive immersion program that incorporates music, dance, art and movement.

Spanish interactive immersion program that incorporates music, dance, art and movement. imbilingual.com

Arts and crafts portion of a children's cultral event

Arts and crafts portion of a children’s German cultral event. DHKids at NYU

Here are some tips on how to select a language program for your toddler or pre-schooler.

  • Does your child have an interest in any specific language? At this early age, it does not matter which language the child begins to learn. The idea is for him to have fun while learning, develop an ear for languages, pick up the native accent, and feel empowered by learning how to say words in another language. If your child has expressed interest in a specific language, go with it and nurture his interest.
  • Once you have decided on the specific language, consider the pedagogical approach of the language program. What is your child’s learning style? Does your child love music and dance? Does he enjoy arts and crafts? Does he love playing games or listening to stories? Many language programs successfully incorporate most of these learning styles in their 45 minute to hour-long classes. On the other hand, some children really know what they like and don’t like. If a child does not like to sing and dance, a music based language program is not the ideal setting for him. Take time to find out the pedagogical approach (play group, arts-based, sports-based, full immersion, bi-lingual, etc)  and ensure it’s the right fit.
  • Is the class age-appropriate for your child? Be diligent and find out the age of the children in the class before enrolling. It is more fun and productive for your child to be in a class with peers who are reaching similar developmental milestones. Inquire about vocabulary being taught. Ideally, you would like your child to learn vocabulary words that are in line with what he is learning at home or at school in his first language. This connection will give your child a sense of pride when he realizes he knows the same words in two languages!!
  • If you are considering hiring a caregiver to speak to your child in the target language, always consider the person’s educational background and how much they know or understand about early childhood education (among other qualifications, of course). Merely speaking and reading to a child in a target language is not sufficient for the child to develop a love for the language and to experience the positive emotions that will lead to piquing his interest and desire to learn more.
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