How can I help my child learn a second language?

Naomi Steiner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine and the author of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child, offers ideas

Don’t assume it’s going to be easy. Contrary to popular belief, children do not typically absorb new languages “like a sponge.” They require extensive, quality experiences in a new language to become bilingual.

Don’t go it alone. Seek out a community of people who are proficient in the second language. For example, hire a babysitter who speaks it.

Recognize the need for consistency. Although this is by no means the only way for a child to learn a language, I have found that the “one parent, one language” approach, where a parent (or other caregiver) always speaks to a child in the same language, is the most effective way to assure a second-language-rich environment.

Make it a family choice. Even if only one parent speaks the second language, both parents should share responsibility. For instance, the other parent can take the child to the library, search for the babysitter who speaks the second language, and drop the child off at a special “Saturday school” in the language.

Establish routines. You might make a habit of reading a story in the second language each night, or watching a second-language cartoon.

Tame your perfectionism. Set whatever goals are realistic for your family and revise them as needed over time.

Take the long view. Remember that you are giving your child a gift. But don’t expect any thanks—at least not before high school or college.

Naomi Steiner is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine and author of Seven Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child.

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