Parents as Partners in the Acquisition of a Second Language

17 Aug

Parents care about their children and often want to know how they can help them in the second language acquisition process.

Time, exposure, continued development of one’s home language, and role models are some of the ways that contribute and enhance the acquisition of a second language.

It takes time to learn another language

When parents ask me why their child is not yet speaking in the target language, my response is always “It is okay. Give them more time!” I also point out that not producing words does not mean that their child does not understand. Time therefore is a factor that needs to be taken into account and learners themselves have to be reminded of this so as not to feel discouraged.

Exposure to the target language outside the classroom

When learners are using a target language to meet a need, for example, communicating with peers, listening to a program of interest, or watching an entertaining educational program, greater retention and learning occur. Out of the classroom exposure to the target language in a social, fun and relaxed atmosphere is therefore crucial.

Using worksheets to practice grammatical rules is void of personal value and cultural meaning. If you wish to teach grammar to your child, the child needs to recognize the communicative value of that particular grammatical point in order to retain it and truly adopt and use it. For example, to teach the verb to be, ask your child to describe someone or something or talk about him or her self.  To teach verbs in the simple present tense form, discuss daily routines and habits.

Continued usage and development of one’s home language

Continued development of the home language is essential and beneficial. Many parents want their children to be immersed in the target language and neglect – and sometimes even forbid – the use of the home language but that is not to the benefit of the learner. Reading in one’s own language is pleasurable, relaxing and beneficial to the acquisition of a second language. Explaining and discussing school subjects and concepts in the child’s home language will deepen his/her background knowledge and better prepare him/her for school where the focus can then shift to learning the particular vocabulary of that theme or subject. Recognizing and discussing similarities and differences between the home and target language deepens the learner’s understanding of the target language and leads him/her to excel in both languages.

Positive role models who demonstrate the value of being proficient in more than one language

Last but not least, role models.  The presence of role models can strongly affect the desire and ability to learn another language.  Parents can play a significant role in being role models by taking on the challenge of learning a second language themselves and by sharing their successes and efforts with their children.

Parents’ involvement in a child’s second language acquisition process is vital and results in highly motivated learners and a greater knowledge of the target language so go ahead, get involved!

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