Additional Language Learning

*A Version of this article will be published in the Leduc Representative and The Beaumont News in November of 2017.

For many families in Canada, approximately 10% (according to the 2016 census), children are learning in a language that is substantially not the one spoken at home.  Studies show that students learning additional languages score higher on standardized tests, perform better in reading, and have higher cognitive functioning, not to mention that it is a boost to their resume when applying for jobs later in life. However, the inevitable question then arises: How can we, as parents, help our children learn a language in which we don’t feel equipped?

I live in a bilingual household, with a Thai spouse who is a newcomer to Canada. Learning Thai has been a significant challenge for me, and my children definitely speak it better than I do.  But while my wife works with them on their Thai, I can re-activate my old French studies to help my children (and myself). The challenges are not insurmountable.  Learning an additional language requires opportunities to use it, to listen to it, to read it, and to think about it.  What opportunities does your child have to do these things?  And what opportunities do you take to engage in the type of learning that your child is doing?  A week ago, I was watching French video on YouTube about numbers up to 100.  Me, a middle aged man singing kids songs!  But it worked.  And my daughter and I say the numbers to each other all the time now.  Do you pick properly-leveled books for your child to read at home?  Reading is important, especially in a second language.

Learning another language benefits from extra reinforcement, and this is true if your child is in French Immersion as it is true of you have come from another country and your child is learning in English. Aside from tutoring, there are some fun activities that can help students build their vocabulary and comprehension, and help them get ahead both in and out of the classroom.

If French is your additional language:

Watch favourite shows and movies—in French! Listening to French helps students acquire better pronunciation and improves the ability to distinguish words, sentences, etc.

Listen to French music. Whether it’s pop, jazz, rock, or hip-hop, listening to French music familiarizes listeners with the natural intonation of the language, which in turn improves pronunciation.

Stay connected–en français! Change the default language of email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles—even the computer—to French.

Use Vocabulary Flashcards. Choose 10 new French words per week. Write each word on a flash card, with the translation on the other side. Perform self-tests a couple of times each day and watch how quickly new word are acquired. Use the vocabulary flash cards and give rhyming or opposite words for each card.

Check out some French books! Popular books such as Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Hunger Games, are all available in French! Even if they have already been read in English, re-reading them develops vocabulary.

Pen (or email, or Skype) pals! Teachers can connect students with others who are French First Language speakers to get some one-on-one practice with a native speaker!

Keep a French journal or diary.  It doesn’t have to be long, or complex. Just write down a few short sentences every day, and your skills will improve! After a couple of months, progress will be definitely noticeable!

Considering that to be a good user of an additional language requires not merely precision, but also exposure.  Oxford Learning offers academic testing in French, which helps us create a French program that meets the child’s needs exactly so that every child can see French success. We also have testing and programs geared towards ESL for all age-levels.

Learning another language, like learning your own, is not just what happens in a classroom.  Since all interaction with the world is done through language, pay attention to the language you are learning, and be deliberate about getting better.

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