Happy New Year! We begin our post this year with five important tips for becoming bilingual combined with posts from previous years to help you and your family learn or enhance your second language throughout 2017.
1. Enroll in a Language Learning Program
Today more and more options are becoming available to help children and adults learn a second language or to become more proficient and bi-literate in their native language. Whether you choose to enroll in a dual-language or bilingual school, take language classes in person or online, or use downloadable applications (or a mixture of the above), one of the most important things to look for in a language learning program is the type of feedback it provides. Look for programs that offer immediate constructive feedback. This type of feedback is important because: (1) it allows language learners to correct and learn from mistakes, (2) it guides and keeps learners on track with their goals, and (3) motivates and energizes continued learning. Conversely, the absent of feedback can be detrimental in language learning because it not only stifles learning but also creates a false picture of a student’s progress, with some students becoming overly critical while others becoming overly confident. As a consequence, the student may become less motivated and more likely to not want to continue.
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2. Create Meaningful Connections
Languages being learned should be relevant and purposeful and tap into our desire to communicate and to connect with others. Both home and school environments are great starting points for language learning. However, to develop language proficiency, language use must also extend beyond the home and school through meaningful relationships with friends and/or relatives, community involvement and activities and other meaningful experiences such as travel. Getting involved in meet-up groups or play groups, volunteering language services in the community and developing meaningful relationships with others who speak the second language are all important ways for both adults and children to enhance their language skills and to connect with others.
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3. Sing and Have Fun
Simple and catchy melodies have been shown to effectively develop phonetic pronunciation in unfamiliar languages and to more effectively improve memory recall for new vocabulary better than other means studied (Ludke, Ferreira, Overly). Singing combined with imagery and context also develops strong word association and language syntax. Moreover, most everyone enjoys singing regardless of age or music ability–making it a perfect tool for language learning and language practice. Most preschool language programs already incorporate singing to help young learners develop language skills. However, given the clear benefits to singing, we encourage children of all ages and adults to engage in singing for continued language development.
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4. Read and Explore
Reading regularly in a second language increases vocabulary and language structure. Even if your family speaks the second language at home, reading in the language enables significant language development by adding context and topics that are not commonly discussed in daily life. Books and stories do not need to be complex for language learners to benefit from reading. Parents who know how to read a second language can read to their child either at or just above the child’s language reading ability. For parents who do not read the second language but whose child is enrolled in a bilingual bi-literacy program, have your child read to you a wide variety of simple books that you can easily understand with pictures to encourage your child to read and teach you. Both of you will significantly increase vocabulary and language knowledge while creating a meaningful shared experience. Thus, no matter if you or your child is a new language learner or someone already proficient in the second language, read regularly on a level that is most comfortable and enjoyable for continued growth and enrichment in the second language.
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5. Engage in Experiential Learning
You cannot learn how to ride a bike unless you actually get on it and try multiple times until you master it. The same applies to language learning. The concept of experiential learning adds to the concept of meaningful connections by extending it to the world we live in and our relationship with it. The exploration of arts, science, technology and social sciences is fundamental in experiential learning. One way to engage in active experiential learning is through developing projects based on inquiry in the language being learned by imploring a variety of disciplines. For example, one may explore the difference in biomes in the language being studied by creating meaningful projects around that study. Such projects may incorporate independent research, dioramas, art, writing, and hands-on experiments. Moreover, engaging in presentations, theatrical plays, dance and other art forms are also important ways to create meaningful experiential learning opportunities to enhance language learning and development while exploring our relationship to others and our environment.
For more ideas on how to create experiential learning opportunities: