It’s not a long time ago that cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni posted a video of his two-year-old daughter Ziva singing a popular Malayalam film song. Being a native Hindi speaker, Ziva’s near-perfect Malayalam stunned everyone to disbelief.
Apparently, Ziva’s feat is not unique. Linguists and cognitive scientists attest that children have the ability to learn new languages as early as age two.
Learning additional languages has incredible benefits in a multicultural and global world. Studies by Harvard University confirm that learning additional languages increases critical thinking, creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children.
Erika Levy, associate professor in Communications Sciences and Disorders at the Teachers College, Columbia University, says that every child is capable of learning at least two additional languages other than the mother tongue. Also until the age of three, children have exceptional cognitive ability to learn by listening. Here are a few steps to help your child become a language wizard.
1. Begin early
François Thibaut, Director/Founder of The Language Workshop for Children, New York, states that the first few years of life, age 2-3 to be precise, is the crucial time in which an individual can acquire a first language. At that age, words, their pronunciation and accent are easily picked up by the child.
Language is partly learned when children interact with other people and environment. The child will most easily learn the language of its immediate kin or the language that it comes across on television or other sources. The younger the learner, the better they are at mimicking new sounds and adopting pronunciation. To teach your child any other language than the mother tongue, ensure that the child lives in an environment where it constantly comes in touch with the target language.
2. One word at a time
The best method to learn vocabulary is to make a habit of learning a new word every day. Language acquisition is a gradual and complex cognitive process which requires time. Rushing through the process will not help in learning. Language is called the symbolization of thought. Teach the different language versions of a single word at a time. Connect each word to the actual item or teach sentences with the help of interactive events and game-like activities.
3. Use communication tools
New York’s Language Workshop for Children uses original music, vocabulary-building songs, language immersion, festive visual aids, action games and language teachers with native fluency to teach languages to toddlers and elementary grade students. Use of interactive communication tools is the most effective method to familiarize the language in a short time. Poems, music, drama, movies, games and interactive videos will bring the child closer to the target language. Songs, stories and role play will enhance the language acquisition.