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How children can succesfully learn a foreign language

Many parents aspire to have their children learn a foreign language through play. In the pharmacy magazine "Eltern", multilingualism expert Prof. Dr. Annick De Houwer offers guidance on the best approach for parents wishing to introduce their children to a foreign language.

Many parents often introduce their children to a foreign language themselves by occasionally using new words in the designated foreign language, hoping that their offspring will learn this way. However, it's not as simple as that. "It's like learning a musical instrument; it requires a lot of practice," says Prof. Dr. Annick De Houwer, Director of the Network for Harmonious Multilingualism.

Many children find it confusing when they are asked to speak in another language while their parents speak German with everyone else. Additionally, speaking in the foreign language should be authentic because "not everyone who believes they are proficient in French or Italian can always form error-free sentences." These mistakes are often passed on to the next generation.

The language level must also be age-appropriate because children aged two or three learn a lot through rhymes and songs. "Parents should know these and master them correctly," explains the language researcher. The motivation of the learning children is crucial. Furthermore, it is important to stay consistent. Even if preschoolers master a foreign language well, it doesn't mean it will stay that way. "They will only maintain it if there is a need for it," says the expert. Without regular practice, knowledge can be lost.

Creating diverse points of contact with the foreign language for learning children

To foster enthusiasm for foreign languages, it is more effective to start reading foreign-language children's books to children from the age of four, watch age-appropriate movies in other languages, travel, or encourage playing with children from different countries. "This opens doors to other cultures," emphasizes De Houwer.

However, learning a foreign language is not thwarted if early childhood education is not perfectly planned. The importance of early foreign language education is often overrated. Even teenagers who learn English later have good prospects of communicating fluently.

This article is from the 3/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.