For Parents

Before Your Child Begins Learning Another Language

You may wish to download the LinguaFolio Jr. parent guide to help guide these conversations.

Before your child begins a program to learn another language, you may want to talk with him or her about languages and cultures all around us every day. Such a conversation will help normalize language learning and help your child make connections between what he or she will learn in a classroom setting to the world he or she lives in. For example,

  • Talk with your child about people you already know who speak other languages like those in your own family, neighbors, people in your community, other children at school, or characters on TV or in the movies.
  • Talk with your child about experiences he or she may have had already with other languages and cultures like going to a local restaurant or a community cultural event.
  • Help make the language learning experience fun by exploring animal sounds in different parts of the world. Explore what animals sound like in different parts of the world.
  • If applicable, talk with your child about places your family has lived or traveled to and ask your child to share what he or she remembers.
  • Identify cars, books, foods, and animals in your own community that reflect various cultures.

Anytime we start a new experience, reflecting on why we are committing time and energy can be helpful. These conversation set the stage for reflecting on language and culture learning. View the following video with your child that shows a parent and child talking about language learning. Then, have your child talk about why he or she might want to learn another language and experience another culture.

You may need to prompt your child based on his or her own interests. For example:

  • What would you like to be able to tell someone in [country where language is spoken] in their own language?
  • What do you think children in [country where language is spoken] like to do during the summer?
  • I bet people who speak [language] like some of the same treats as you do. What are some of your favorites? Are you ready to explore some new foods?
  • I wonder if they play the same sports or video games. What do you think?

While Your Child Is Learning Another Language

During your child’s language learning program, you can continue to support his or her learning by expanding on the initial conversation you had above. For example,

  • What does the language sound like to you? (It’s okay to let your child imitate the language based on intonation and common sounds, not actual words at first.)
  • Can you show me how to say “hello” or “goodbye”? (Be sure to ask children to include any culturally appropriate gestures that go along with the words.)
  • Did you notice anything about the way the language is written?
  • What sorts of foods are do the people in [country where language is spoken] eat? Do you think we could find some of them in the market?

After Your Child’s Language Program Ends

After your child’s language learning program has ended – for example, at the end of the STARTALK program or during the summer – you can extend his or her language and culture learning.

  • Check out children’s literature in translation from the library.
  • Encourage friendships with families of different backgrounds. You can find other families through local community organizations.
  • Sample foods, try out age-appropriate arts, and experience media of the culture such as music, TV shows, or movies.
  • If your child is not a school-based program, consider advocating for one. The National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) provides a variety of advocacy resources.