Kids and Language

As a mother of 2 small children I am continually astounded by their language development- the words they pick up and the way they manage to play with multiple languages already. As we're currently living in Vienna they are having to master German on top of English… so here are some of my ponderings on the linguistic theme.


February 2015

Which language should our kids be learning?

We all want to give our kids a leg- up in life, and currently the belief is that learning a second (or third) language at a young age will boost our child’s development and future prospects (See my blog: Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow? for more on this). Research says that our children’s brains are like sponges, and so should be sopping up everything possible, especially between the ages of 2-4. But what to chose? How do you know which language is best for your child?

There are varying points of view on this: do we go for the most important or the easiest? Or even the hardest- after all, if they can learn anything right now, then why not aim high?! I wrote before on the easiest language to learn for English speakers, (The easiest foreign language to learn), so here’s a different standpoint.

Some parents choose a heritage language, meaning that Mum, Dad, Granny, or another relative speaks the language. This is great because it provides real-life experience to use the language and gain confidence. But if only English is spoken at home, and you’re not sure which language to choose, here are 5 foreign languages experts feel will best benefit kids for their futures:

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Book review #1: Un, Deux, Trois

We all know the tried and tested books that have gone through generations: The Hungry Caterpillar, The Little Prince (Or Le Petit Prince in its original language), anything by Roald Dahl… but sometimes it’s not easy to choose a new book, especially when you are looking for something in another language. This is the first of my recommendations for books to help your children in another language.


Simple songs and rhymes are an excellent way to familiarize young children with another language. Un, Deux, Trois, by Opal Dunn (a specialist in books on early first and second language development), is a collection of 25 traditional French nursery rhymes, and is an excellent aid for guided learning. An illustrated vocabulary features simple words and phrases that are easy to learn and that can be used in games or everyday life. The rhymes are simple and they incorporate many things like numbers, body parts, days of the weeks etc… Children are encouraged to repeat the phrases and sing along with the rhymes, and the CD lets them know how both should sound. For those parents who are not French natives, a guide translates the more difficult phrases, with notes in the back of the book.

Continue reading “Book review #1: Un, Deux, Trois”

Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow?

main-qimg-53c808191a829ea1c8dc9f5a708d556eWe have all at one point or another learnt a foreign language- at school, for a trip abroad, because of a crush on someone… and then months later realised that we can no longer speak a word of said language. How depressing is that? All that time and effort wasted on something we couldn’t even hang on to. And so with our kids, is it worth the time they spend learning another language if in the long run they might never use or need that language again?

Obviously this topic is not related to bilingual kids- those whose parents speak different languages, and so will always have recourse to those languages. Our situation is different- we are a monolingual, English- speaking family bringing up 2 children in Austria, and so teaching them (not ourselves I  hasten to add) German. However, it is more than likely that we will move to live in another country sometime in the future- a country where neither English nor German is spoken. So why bother with German? Won’t they forget it and learn the new language instead? My friend’s daughter learned Spanish from their babysitter for a year and could speak and understand it, at a 2- year old level. Now that the babysitter has moved on and she has no Spanish input, she does not remember it at all. How does that work? Does learning a language for only a year or so have any benefits (obviously we hope that it does).

Numerous studies show that speaking a second language boosts cognitive, memory, and listening skills. Research published in Psychological Science suggests that simply thinking in a foreign language helps people make quicker and better life decisions. Additionally, a study by the College Entrance Examination Board reports a direct correlation between foreign language study and high school examination scores. People who speak a foreign language often enjoy better career prospects and higher standards of living. And there are even health benefits — recent research from the University of Chicago suggests that a second language also helps prevent dementia later in life.

A lot of these are facts that we have read about before. The important part is how to keep a language once your child has started to learn it, and here are some tips.

Continue reading “Fleeting language- here today but gone tomorrow?”

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