How to Help Your Child Learn a Language

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If there’s one thing young kids are great at, it’s picking up new languages. Kids frequently enjoy the experience, too. Not only do they get the pleasure of mastering a new skill, it can also be an entertaining — and sometimes downright funny — experience! Thanks to the powerful tools available to us today on the web and in mobile apps, it’s easier than ever for your child to experiment with listening to, speaking, reading and writing in a foreign language. In this article I’ll show you some of the easy, fun and entertaining ways that you can help your kid learn languages with technology. So if you think your kid would fancy exploring a new language, read on!

MindSnacks: Play games and learn a language

The MindSnacks apps are a fantastic way for kids (and adults) to learn a language. From basic vocabulary through to more complex phrases, spelling and grammar, MindSnacks uses games to keep your kid engaged and motivated. Each lesson is learned by playing lots of entertaining games — you start with just two available games, then unlock additional games as you level up. I have to say, I find the Spanish app rather addictive!

The games in the the MindSnacks apps are a fantastic way to engage your child in learning a new language.

The games in the MindSnacks apps are a fantastic way to engage your child in learning a new language.

At the time of writing, there are MindSnacks apps available for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese. (There are also apps available for other subjects, such as maths and English vocab for kids.) Each app is free and comes with a free basic lesson. The full set of language lessons are available via a single in-app purchase.

Play around with Google Translate

Google Translate — and other automated translation software — can be a fun and entertaining way for kids to experiment with different languages. Google Translate comes in two flavours: a fairly basic webpage, and a free mobile app available for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices. The mobile app is the most fun because you can speak into the microphone in one language, and the app speaks the word or phrase back to you in another language!

Google Translate comes in website (left) and app (right) flavours. It's ideal for experimenting with other languages.

Google Translate comes in website (left) and app (right) flavours. It’s ideal for experimenting with other languages.

Here are some fun things to try with Google Translate:

  1. Learn greetings. Speak or type English phrases like “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “How are you?” into Google Translate, and learn how to say these phrases in other languages.
  2. Count to ten. Type or say the numbers from 1 to 10, then listen to their equivalents in another language.
  3. Learn the colours of the rainbow. Say a colour, then have Google Translate say it back to you in other languages.
  4. Look up words. You can use Google Translate as a simple dictionary. Say or type any word in English and find out the foreign language equivalent, or vice versa.
  5. Translate a webpage. Pick a webpage that your child enjoys reading, then copy and paste its URL into Google Translate to view that webpage in another language!
  6. Translate some TV. Hold your phone up to the TV and record a few seconds of English dialogue, then have Google Translate turn it into another language. (The results from this can be mixed, but are usually entertaining!)
  7. Jump in at the deep end. Language Immersion is an extension for the Chrome web browser that uses Google Translate to translate passages of text automatically on any webpage you visit. Your kid can visit their favourite English-language websites and see parts of the text translated into, say, Spanish. If they can’t understand a Spanish phrase, one click on the phrase turns it back into English. Great for learning new vocabulary and practising language skills.
Google's Language Immersion browser extension lets kids browse websites in different languages.

Google’s Language Immersion browser extension lets kids browse websites in different languages.

Cat Spanish: Learn Spanish from cats!

Cat Spanish by CatAcademy sounds like the daftest idea on the planet, but it’s actually a really fun (and funny) way to learn basic Spanish. Essentially, this app uses cute pictures of cats to teach you over 1,000 Spanish phrases and a smattering of Spanish grammar. Bear with me here. It’s the very cuteness and humour of the cats that make the app work, since it helps the words and phrases stick in your memory. That, along with some clever adaptive testing and repetition, means your child will start picking up Spanish very quickly. Meow!

Cat Spanish sounds crazy, but it's actually a really fun way to learn Spanish!

Cat Spanish sounds crazy, but it’s actually a really fun way to learn Spanish!

Learn a language with YouTube

If your child enjoys a visual approach to learning languages, there are lots of great YouTube channels that can help. For example:

  • French Lessons for Children has a range of fun French lessons aimed at kids, from learning the alphabet and numbers through to basic vocabulary and simple dialogue.
  • SpanishDict has a fantastic series of Learn Spanish videos, starting right from basic greetings and going all the way up to advanced grammar and dealing with specific situations in Spanish.
  • Learn Italian with Lucrezia has a large number of beginner videos that can get your kid started with speaking Italian.

SpanishDict has a great set of YouTube lessons for learning Spanish.

Also, of course, on YouTube you can find hundreds of clips from your kids’ favourite TV shows dubbed into other languages. A great way to pick up a language while having fun at the same time!

Use an online language dictionary

Gone are the days where you had to buy an expensive language dictionary just to look up some foreign words. Now there are many online dictionaries available in a variety of languages. WordReference.com offers an excellent set of free language dictionaries covering English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and lots more. They also have apps for iPhone and Android, as well as tools and extensions for various web browsers that let you look up words directly from your browser. Finally, if your child is struggling with all those tricky irregular verbs, the site has online verb conjugators for SpanishFrench and Italian (how I wish I’d had these when I was at school!).

WordReference has a fantastic set of free online language dictionaries that your child can use.

WordReference has a fantastic set of free online dictionaries that your child can use.

Take it to the next level with Duolingo

If your kid gets really into learning a particular language, they should check out Duolingo. This excellent website offers free college-level language courses in Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. Duolingo takes a gamified approach, with lots of fun lessons, quizzes and tests that earn you XP (experience points that you can use to compete with your friends on Facebook) as well as “lingots” (virtual currency that you can spend in the online store). The lessons and tests are really well done, and ask you to type translations, listen to dictation, and speak into the microphone in the foreign language (it even listens and tells you if you got it right!).

Duolingo offers free, high-quality online courses in many languages that can take you from beginner to college level.

Duolingo offers free, high-quality online courses in many languages that can take you from beginner to college level.

In addition, Duolingo has an active discussion forum, as well as an “Immersion” challenge that gets you to translate real articles in collaboration with others. This is great for boosting your confidence level. In fact, the article translation is Duolingo’s masterstroke — by charging people to upload documents for the community to translate, Duolingo can stay completely free to use! Duolingo iOS and Android apps are also available, so your kid can learn on the go. I hope that these websites and apps can inspire your kid to discover the joy of learning and speaking another language. Do you know of any other great resources out there for language learning? Please let me know in the comments below!

[Image credits: thank you note for every language by woodleywonderworks (CC BY), cropped]

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One comment on “How to Help Your Child Learn a Language
  1. Matt Doyle says:

    Here’s another fun language-learning site for preschoolers where they get to create a show in different languages!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/lingo-show/games/lingo-show-bigbugshow/

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