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Kids who learn more than one language do better in other subjects like reading and science, score higher on standardized tests, and exhibit better problem-solving and spatial abilities. There’s even evidence that second-language acquisition changes the brain’s anatomy and adds gray matter.
By Carol Lloyd
This new book by Susanna Zaraysky, a polyglot who converses in English, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Serbo-Croatian, is a great resource for parents who want to expose their children to a second language. Offering 70 tips for learning foreign languages, the book is based on the idea that we learn languages best not in the classroom but in cultural settings — through media, people, and especially music. Zaraysky recommends finding music your kids love in their target language and moving from listening to decoding to reading and writing. Most of us only experience this natural language learning through travel or love affairs, but this book shows the same principal is possible at home without plane tickets, tutors, and communication meltdowns.
Trick: Have your children shop for music with you to make sure the tunes capture their imagination.
If you have a small handle on the language your kids are learning, designate one dinner where you try to speak it with them while eating a meal from that region. Even if you only learn a few words for the occasion, you'll still be teaching your children an important lesson: that language isn’t about verb conjugation, but a way of communicating with other people and learning about a culture. If you have friends who speak the language, invite them to dinner too.
Trick: Involve your children in the menu planning to make sure they “own” it and don’t feel the dinner is a trumped-up way to get them to practice language skills.
Wondering where to start? BBC’s hilarious musical language program for children isn’t cheap, but for parents who want to ease their kids into a new language, you can’t do better than the clock-munching intergalactic monster and his bizarre earthling friends. The program allows you to choose from multiple languages — including Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Russian — and offers not only the entertaining DVDs but also interactive games, books, and CDs.
Trick: Let your children guide the process of what they learn and how. Some kids may simply want to watch the DVDs, while other will be more focused on the games.
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