Everyone has frustration towards their parents. One frustration I have toward my father is that he never taught me Japanese. Every time I say to someone that my father is Japanese, the first thing they ask me is: “Do you speak Japanese?” And I answer disappointed: “no.”
So, if you are a foreigner anywhere in the world and have a child, do yourself and your kids a favor and teach them your mother tongue.
Do not wait the child to grow to take it to the language school, the earlier the child is exposed to language the better. It doesn’t matter if the child is illiterate, the most important is to talk, talk and talk so he/she will internalize the language structure and will start talking. New-born babies already know how to distinguish between completely different languages. If the languages are similar, the baby starts to distinguish them as of the sixth month.
Try to be active and always speak to the child in your language, as this language is secondary to your kid, and the older he/she gets, the more likely he/she’ll to be exposed only to the local language. So, you must “force” the child to talk to you only in your language, even if you understand completely the local language. The child will try to switch to the other language automatically, since it is easier, but keep talking only in the your language.
The level of proficiency
Parents should discuss what level they wish their children reach. Do they should just understand well? To speak well? To write and to read the basics? To Read a newspaper or a classic writer? After deciding the goal is to put into practice:
If you just want the child to understand the language: just talk to he/she in that language.
Speak well: never accept the answer in the local language, always demand the child to respond in your language and naturally correct any errors.
Write the basics: buy a notebook and a book of literacy and teach yourself the child. After literacy, introduce children’s books and increase the difficulties gradually. Remember, it has to be interesting to the child.
Full abilities: if you want the child to have full abilities, put him/her in an environment in which he/she will always feel the need to use the language. The easiest way is a bilingual school, but as they are expensive, there are other options. Find local expatriates frequently. Present the culture and habits of your country. Show music, cartoons, movies, traditions, games, sports, food and literature. Always according to the child’s age.
The more hours of exposure to the foreign language better. You should target a minimum of 25% of the child’s time. Use the language every day and dedicate part of your time to speak and study the language with the child.
Learning a language should be fun and not a burden for the child. Do not force your kid to read Voltaire, Shakespeare, Goethe or Saramago. Everything should be appropriate to the level and age of the child. Also, he/she should not sit for hours studying. How to be fun: create games, teach songs, treat the language as a “secret language”, read books and give comic books, try to find other children who speak the same language. And take advantage of your child’s interest, what he/she likes? Superheroes, cars, football, horses, dolls, fashion … No matter the theme, give books and DVDs in your language on the subject.
Having fun with the language is necessary. But if you want your child to have a high level, lessons will be required. This does not mean leave the child with a book and go do something else. Lessons can start early, at age 3, but the father/mother must be present. The lesson should be easy, it can be simply read a few pages of a book aloud, or speak the name of an object and ask the child to draw. Gradually it should be include writing and numbers, with dot to dot exercises, for example. Slowly other tasks can be introduced as reading children’s book alone or write a sentence or a spelling test. From there, it is possible to evolve and give the writing tasks as to write a children’s music, write a letter to distant relatives and so on.