Teach Your Kids A New Language


Have you ever wanted your kids to learn a foreign language but don’t know where to start? How about right in your own home. What? I hear you say. I’m no language teacher. Yes you are, oh yes you are. Read on.

 Mother tongue. That’s the first language you speak that comes most naturally to you. You taught your own children the same language in your mother tongue when they were just babies and infants. You didn’t second guess yourself back then, so now apply the same principles to the second language of choice…with the help of Mr Google for the words you don’t know, of course.

 Kids learn additional languages the same way they learnt their mother tongue. Through repetition of new strange sounding words, singing and using the new words in relevant context over and over again (reinforcement). Choose a language you want to learn together and set aside half an hour a day or even just half an hour a week. No need to purchase new materials, as long as you are a pretty regular household with all the things that come with running a household and running children’s lives, it’s all under your roof.

In Japanese language the word Sensei might generally mean ‘teacher’ but it literally translates to Leading Student’. Choosing to learn a new language along with your children, the Leading Student is all you have to be. If you make it clear to your kids that you’re learning along with them they won’t expect you to be an expert. If you make mistakes it won’t matter, it’s a good model to them that all humans have flaws and stumble along the way but it’s fun to try.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Go to Mr Google and type in household items in Spanish or whatever list you like, fruit, body parts, colours, greetings or numbers are all a good start. Building a good vocabulary base is great. Make little squares and write each word on each piece of paper with the meaning in the back. Learn these words one at a time together, about 10 words in one session, then it’s time for some fun. Yes, language learning is meant to be fun. Think of any game you like and use it to memorise these new words. Snap, memory, fishing (attach a metal paperclip to each word and fish each word with a magnet attached to the end of a string dangling from a stick.  If you’ve chosen to learn fruit and vegetable names next time you’re at the supermarket together see how many you remember. What kitchen items can you now identify? Put post-it notes on them until they’re all memorised.

 I bet you have a small stack of fluffy toys that always seem to grow exponentially completely useless beyond clutter. Let them be your talking puppets in made-up plays with your kids. If anyone feels shy using the new language it doesn’t seem so strange when it’s Elephant or Bunny doing the talking.

Photo by Michał Grosicki on Unsplash

Drag out any children’s game from the cupboard and use it with your new word lists. Stick words to different squares on a Snakes and ladders board, play Guess Who using colours or descriptions of people, hair or faces. Assignment words, tasks or questions to each number on a dice. Any games where people take turns are good. Pop-up pirate, darts, dominoes, kicking a soccer ball into a goal…use your imagination and take turns matching the words with their meanings, or give the translation, or answer the question, or generally respond in the new language. Use your post-it flags and label your entire house. Start using the new words in place of the English. Soon enough the new words are as familiar as the old words. Bon Appetit, anyone?

Photo by José González on Unsplash

Think of popular songs and change the words. Google simple song ideas or make up your own songs. Learn new greetings in the desired language and use them instead of English. Never say Goodbye, Thank you or Hello in English in your household again, and if you didn’t intend it to be, it will soon become a habit. Google any meanings you think will be handy, such as ‘How do you say…?, please repeat that, excuse me ‘ or simple instructions. Have fun at dinner using your instructions, or play Simon Says.


Kids adore playing games with adults, but how often do we make the time to do it? Playing games in another language is easier than you think. Just make sticky tape, marker pens and small squares of blank paper your very good friends.

 Give it a try, be prepared to be silly and have fun. I have a Post-Graduate degree in Language, Literacy and Learning and specialised to teach Japanese language and did so for years. I successfully used the above model to teach my old children Japanese as well as teach a group of teenagers and adults Spanish when I formerly only knew one Spanish word – cervasa (beer). Worst case scenerio we got a few words wrong in Spanish but the best case scenario was we had fun!

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