How to Teach a Second Language to a Toddler?

By Julia Solovieva – Language teacher with more than 10 years of experience in teaching English as a second language. You can follow her on FB on Random English.

Nowadays, many researchers, teachers, and parents agree that teaching a second language early, at 3-4 years of age or even earlier, is highly beneficial.

But how to teach a second language to a toddler?

You can’t really teach toddlers the same way you can teach school children.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this article, you will find the most essential tips on teaching your toddler a second language.

How do toddlers learn?

The most essential thing to remember here is that toddlers learn through play.

Forget rules, grammar, ‘proper’ lessons, textbooks, and so on. To teach your toddler a foreign language, you need to play games with them.

Isn’t that amazing? You get to spend quality time with your child, play some games, while helping them acquire useful language skills at the same time.

Here are a few other important features of how toddlers learn:

  • They have shorter attention spans.
  • They learn best by actively engaging with their environment.
  • They learn through doing, exploring, and asking questions.
  • They need to actively interact with you during the learning sessions.

Essential tips on how to teach a second language to a toddler 

Although teaching your toddler a second language may seem challenging at first, it becomes easier the more you do it. And with the helpful tips in this article, you are bound to have a great start. 

Let’s take a look at some of the key things to keep in mind when teaching your toddler a second language. 

Make the sessions short and fun 

Remember the short attention spans and the fact that toddlers learn mostly through play? You need to take that into account when teaching your toddler a second language.

You can have multiple learning sessions during the day but keep them fairly short and make them entertaining.

If you feel like your child is getting bored, switch to another language game or even something else altogether and come back to language learning later. 

Read nursery rhymes and sing songs 

Songs and nursery rhymes are not just fun – they are a great source of language material.

They are also a great way to engage kids in different ways: you can sing along, act things out, draw pictures to illustrate them. 

Make the most of the toys you have 

There are great language learning toys out there, but the truth is, practically any toy can have educational value for language learning at some point. 

Puzzles are some of the best toys to combine with language learning.

Not only do they help children develop their creativity and problem-solving skills, but they can also be used to practice a variety of word categories – letters, numbers, colors, animals, and more.

Read books together

Good books are both fun and a great way to expose your child to the target language.

Start by reading to your toddler and teach them to read as they get older and master the language.

Make it interactive

As we mentioned above, young children learn best through actively interacting with their environment.

By making your learning sessions as interactive as possible you are making sure your toddler remembers what they learn much better.

There are many things you can do: dance along to songs, act out nursery rhymes, draw letters and other pictures, play games that involve movement, etc.

Some of these things may not seem directly connected to language learning.

However, they make the whole learning process more immersive and thus more memorable.

Ensure constant repetition

Children and adults alike need to repeat new things a few times to remember them well.

Even if it seems that your child remembers a new word really well, don’t move on from it and never return – go back to it in further learning sessions, just in different activities.

Be patient

It may take your toddler a while to learn some things – it’s absolutely natural.

Don’t rush them and don’t push them to learn harder, just let your child learn at their pace and have fun with them.

Pushing too hard can lead to too many negative emotions associated with the target language which is detrimental for language learning.

Praise your child

Praise and positive reinforcement are important to help your toddler learn.

It shows them that they are doing things right, reinforces their desire to learn, and creates overall positive associations with the target language.

Further reading

Photo by olharomaniuk


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