Now that the schools are back, many young people are having their first introductions to a foreign language. Whether your son or daughter is starting out with a friendly, fun-based after-school club; or a more formal secondary school classroom setting, there are a few things that you can do to help your child get to grips with this new challenge and learn more effectively.
Firstly, no matter what you thought of language lessons at school, PLEASE do not tell your child that you were rubbish at languages, or that you don’t see the point of learning them. Even if both thing are true. If your child is in secondary school then they have several years of compulsory language-learning ahead of them, so it would be far better to encourage them to have a good try and see what they think for themselves.
At least to start with, learning a new language seems to consist mostly of lists of new words that you have to learn. Colours, numbers, parts of the body… the lists seem to go on and on. Many children seem to learn the words just well enough to get through this week, or the test at the end of the module, and the cheerfully forget them again. As you may guess, this is a very short-term strategy that can easily come back to bite them if they continue the language to GCSE and beyond. Help your child to start a vocabulary book and encourage them to keep it up, so that they can refer back to it when needed. Give them little mini-tests or challenges throughout the year to keep the information fresh. Why not do a treasure hunt using clues written (at least partially) in the key language? Or play hangman?
At some point in the learning journey (probably fairly quickly) the subject of grammar will rear its ugly head. Many adults recoil in horror at this point, especially those who were educated in the 1970s and 1980s when there was not such an emphasis on grammar learning in some sectors. It is important to note that grammar does not need to be scary, or even hard to learn, as long as it is something you get a handle on earlier rather than later. Indeed, it can be rather like being given the decoder so that you can decipher spy messages. At least, that’s what I tell my children! However, it can be a real chore to have to go back through old schoolbooks from several years ago in order to find a grammar explanation and revise the details. It is a good idea to set up a grammar folder (just an A4 folder, in any colour you like, with dividers) and to write up each new concept on a sheet of paper to go in the folder. This is a great way of revising as well as providing material to revise from in the future.
Homework – were you the type who saved all your homework until the last day before the deadline and then panicked to get it all done in time? Or did you prefer to work methodically, tackling one or two pieces each night so you were never overwhelmed? Well, learning a language can be a bit like that. Of course it is possible to dash off the worksheets and exercises quickly at the last moment, but if you want the information to stick, especially for vocabulary, then you need to have a bit more method.
If you try to learn all your new words in one mammoth session, then it is quite likely that you will forget them all very quickly. Three smaller sessions of, say, 10 minutes each week, are much more likely to be effective. Essentially, “little and often” is best, as each time we practice a new task we get better at doing it. Try to persuade your children to do their vocabulary learning in regular, bite-sized chunks. You could help by testing them, or even just by reminding them.
It may be a bit of an effort to help your child to set these habits at the beginning of their language learning time, but it will almost certainly save time later on and hopefully help to streamline the learning process for them.
This blog post I wrote earlier gives some other great tips to help you learn your new language more easily: http://language-learners.com/seven-tips-to-help-you-learn-a-new-language/