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How to make a Second Language feel more Natural



Parents often ask the Practica Advisory Service how they can boost their little one’s ability to communicate in a 2nd language. Here’s a fun idea that children are naturally drawn to.

Buy a new teddy and explain that he can understand and speak nothing but the 2nd language.  Give him a name that is characteristic of the new language, such as “Jannie” if the second language is Afrikaans or “Johnny” if it’s English. Now, do the following:

1. When you say something to your child, repeat this to Jannie in the second language. This will expose your child to the new language in a real life context and also teach your little one to be understanding and empathetic towards others.

2. Involve Jannie in pretend play and speak to him as if he is a real person. Encourage your child to do the same and help him out with key words.

3. As you read your child’s bedtime story, talk about pictures as usual and then repeat words in the second language, so that Jannie can also understand.

4. Involve Jannie in your daily routine. Keep in mind that repetition is key when learning any new language, 1st or 2nd.  Since routines are naturally repeated, you can easily use this as an opportunity to repeat words and phrases in both languages.

5. Deliberately add new experiences to your daily routine that will expose your child to new words and concepts over and over again, like taking a daily walk through the garden – with Jannie, of course!

Developing a First Language

If your child is at the stage where he is just starting to string together 3-5 word sentences in his first language, consider buying another teddy specifically for that language and first focusing on this new friend. 

One great advantage to having another “child” in the house, is that it gives you a reason to repeat and correct language with less risk of intimidating or embarrassing your child.

For example, when your child says, “I need to the loo,” you can respond by saying to Teddy, “Peter says that he needs to go to the loo. Teddy, do you need to go to the loo as well?” The idea is to model the correct use of the language instead of correcting your child and putting him on the spot.

3 General Tips for boosting Language Development

Talk about things that are happening in the moment, as it will be easier for your child to link the meaning of your words to what he is experiencing at that moment.

Be led by your child’s focus. Be on the lookout for things that draw his attention and then elaborate on his experience by adding words to it.

Repeat key words, for instance, “Can you help Teddy to eat his apple? Teddy has a red apple and you also have a red apple.”

When we know better... we do better...

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