Welcome, budding polyglot! The rest of this month we will be focusing primarily on language acquisition as a family. Approaching a new subject with your little ones can be a daunting task, but there are countless benefits and, as we will discuss, the risks are minimal. Facilitating your children’s language acquisition will change their lives, and likely your own, for the better in ways you may not have even considered. It will always be worth it, here are a few reasons why.
As I grew up, I realized that much of what drove the activities I participated in is that which my parents were unable to do when they were children. No instruments, so I play 4. No languages, so I speak 5. No travel, so I traveled solo for 7 years starting at 17. All of this is amazing, but looking back I would have loved to have my parents along for the ride more often. We did take them to Europe for two weeks several years ago, but they still both only speak English so we played interpreter the entire time. It was great, I just wish they had been afforded the same opportunities they provided to me.
This is where you come in, future polyglot. Learning a language with your child will forge a bond that will be near impossible to break. Your children crave your time and attention. Your children also won’t listen to you in all likelihood. What they will do, though, is imitate you. So give them something marvelous to imitate. Someone who spends time enhancing their life with their child. It may not seem like much, and it will be difficult, but we tend to remember the difficult things we do with the ones we love. First, let’s talk about potential downsides:
When you decide to take on the endeavor of teaching your child anything, there are bound to be some risks associated. Language acquisition is no exception to this rule. However, we will look at both the risks of doing it yourself and those of delegating it to someone possibly even less qualified than you.
One of the fears I have, which I imagine many share, is that of being an inadequate educator. This is not something that will be unique to you. Nor is it something that is unique to language acquisition education. Here are some things to consider if you are concerned about being a subpar educator:
No one will ever be more invested than you in your children’s success. Sending them to some other people for most of their lives during and throughout their adolescence is not a better option than teaching them yourself, even if you are worried you don’t know everything. Spend some time looking into how easy it is to get a job working for a public school, you are more than qualified to teach your own child.
You know your child better than some stranger ever could. You know the way they learn, if you don’t recognize that, just try teaching them anything. In all likelihood, you do know, you just don’t realize it because you’ve never actively viewed yourself as an educator to them. Most of the people staffing the public education system are inadequate educators. They just never think of themselves that way. Why do you?
Conflicting Learning Styles
Once you’ve picked up and started some language acquisition with your children, you may realize that the way they learn and the way you learn are conflicting. This can act as an obstacle, but it does not have to mean that you can’t proceed. You may need to split your language acquisition off from that of your child/children, but you shouldn’t stop working with them in their language acquisition.
All the work you do with them before working on your own language acquisition goals will only fuel your fire. You will be passively learning through teaching, often learning more than you would have. Even if it’s because you didn’t have someone with you asking questions you may or may not have thought of before, so it will always be worth working on language acquisition with your children. The conflict comes in that you need more than one strategy, luckily you find yourself here, Second Language Strategies is here to help. Not just that, but your child will learn the language faster than you, that’s not your fault.
Your child will surpass you in level and skill.
Your child’s brain is able to process and retain much more than yours. Years and years do wear on the brain, luckily by learning a second language, you will enhance your ability to process and retain information long term. Learning a second language is directly tied to an increase in neuroplasticity and may have anti Alzheimer’s effects as well as the potential ability to physically rewrite brain structure for the better. Do not become discouraged when someone passes you in anything. Them winning is not you losing. This is especially true when it comes to your own children.
And here, briefly, is the risk of not working on language acquisition with your children. If you won’t do it, you risk sending your child to someone else who will teach them inadequately, motivate them in unsustainable ways, and leave them with a sour taste in their mouth with regards to language acquisition and, as is often the case, education writ large. Your choice.
While the risks are numerous and the consequences varied, the rewards are abundant and the consequences consistent. For the most part, these rewards are not particular to teaching/learning with your children. Most of the benefits you’ll get from learning with your children you will get from language acquisition in and of itself. However, we have covered most of those, so let’s think family specific.
You’ll get more time with your children.
If you are outsourcing your child’s education they will spend more time learning from people who may, or may not, share your values than they spend learning with you. If that’s a risk you’re willing to take, okay, but I would not recommend it.
It is estimated that over 50% of the world is bilingual. In the United States, though, the estimation is closer to ~20% and that doesn’t account for people who speak English as their second language. Personally, I don’t want to risk my child ending up well below average, I’ll assume the same is true for you. By working on language acquisition with them you make yours and their life better.
- You make your life AND their life better.
If languages are the first thing you are teaching your children you might not realize this yet, but every time you decide to teach or facilitate the education of your children you will be enhancing both of your lives. I still remember all of my best teachers and I appreciate everything they made possible in my life. I also appreciate everything my parents taught and teach me and how I felt throughout the process. You have the opportunity to be the best teacher they ever have, even if you are not a PhD in education. If education credentials mattered, public schools would be more successful in knowledge transfer.
I said it already, but it’s worth repeating:
No one will ever be as invested in your child’s future as you are.
- Picking up new skills, together.
If you are able to educate your child it likely means you are able to educate yourself. This is something that takes practice and is a skill that can be built. If it’s already something you do, then you don’t have to stop at facilitating your children’s language acquisition. You can work with them to learn anything and everything that pertains to shared or individual interests. This means that for the rest of your life you will be able to learn things with and from your children. As I said, they have a younger brain that can process and retain more than yours. Having raised a child you can learn from is one of life’s great joys, or so I hear; and so I intend to find out.
Whether you’re teaching your child to play a sport or teaching them a language, the more time you spend with them the more you will learn about them, yourself, and the things you are working on together. We all know the plague of absent parents, we often blame the schools, but how much would we really need to pay people to incentivize them to care about your child as much as you do? Far more than we do, and I already think we overpay, but that’s a topic for another time.
Don’t be the parent who doesn’t even know what their children know. Be the curious parent. Be the parent who is generous with their time. Be the parent and educator you would have wanted when you were a child. Maybe your parents couldn’t do it due to their circumstance or maybe they didn’t do it because they didn’t know how. I cannot change your circumstance, but I can give you the knowledge to know how. After that, it’s on you to make the decision. If you are already bilingual this should be a no brainer. If you speak only one language it is time to make a choice. 56% of the world is bilingual. You can either choose to join them and ensure your child does so, too, or you can choose to remain in the bottom 44%, it’s up to you.
Bilingualism is the real nootropic. If you think the health of your brain and the brain of your child is important, bilingualism is a necessity. Public education, specifically in the United States, has by and large failed students, en masse, for decades. What was done to you is not your fault. However, if you choose to pass it on, then the fault does lie with you. If the options are spending more time with your children or outsourcing that to complete strangers for 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 15 years, think long and hard before you make that decision. Your children crave your time and attention, becoming bilingual with them gives them both and enhances both of your lives. In the end your children will not listen to you, but they will imitate you. Be someone worthy of imitation.
There is no comprehensive guide, no tips or tricks to carry anyone across the finish line. Language acquisition requires time, effort, and consistency. That said, it is something that anyone of any age is more than capable of accomplishing.