Four years ago, I made the decision to teach my oldest child a second language. She was just six months old then. I made this decision based on two things: First, I had grown up bilingual and I wanted her to be the same. And second, knowing multiple languages has benefited me in my enhanced ability to be able to communicate with a diverse group of people as well as an increased ability to learn a third and even fourth language. Furthermore, I have bragging rights as a multilingual person plain and simple.
When I first made this decision, I knew next to nothing on how to teach, much less how to teach a second language. All I had to go on was my personal experience. All I had to go on were memories of how my mother taught me. Pure and simple, my mother taught me Korean by conversation. It also probably helped that I spent my toddler years in Korea. And it helped that even after we moved back to America, I still spoke Korean with my mother at home.
So, I knew that the key to teaching my daughter how to speak another language was by conversation. Even though she was just a baby, hardly talking except for the occasional mama or dada, I knew then that that was the perfect time to start. I had also done some research on Google. I learned that the best time to learn a language was between the ages of 0 and 10. But the most ideal time to learn a new language was between the ages of 0 and 5. I also learned that a child could be fluent in a second language, or even a third, if they spent at least 30% of the day using that language.
With these key facts in mind, I set about teaching my daughter how to speak Korean. All I did was speak Korean to her. Of course, my own Korean was pretty rusty at that point, which I am ashamed to admit. But I found that the more I spoke Korean with her, the more my own Korean improved. Eventually, by the time she turned one, she had spoken her very first and second Korean words. They were just words for milk and mom, but it was a start. It meant that I was doing a good job and that I should continue.
I eventually let her watch Korean shows on YouTube that were geared for kids. She loved (and still does) to watch and listen to the songs. Eventually, she learned the words of many of these songs in Korean. She can still sing them. We also practiced using the words for body parts and colors, and eventually she mastered that too. Through conversation and repetition, she learned. At one point, her Korean was better than her English.
When she turned three, our Korean relatives had sent us two workbooks for pre-school aged children. In these workbooks, she was able to practice the Korean consonants and vowels. She practiced writing the characters as well. But we haven’t worked on them as much as I would have liked. Part of the reason is due to her age. At this age, speaking and listening are the primary ways to learn a language. Writing and reading will come later.
Eventually, I’d like to teach her how to read and write in Korean. But first, in order to do that, I have to practice my own written Korean. Other than recognizing the characters and sounding out the words one by one, I struggle to read in Korean. That is because I learned too late and I never kept at it. But with my daughter, it is something that I’d like to do. When you only know how to speak a language, and not write in it, then I feel like you are only half fluent. To completely master a language, you have to be able to speak, listen, read, and write in it.
Now, she is four, almost five years old, and she is fluent in both Korean and English. In fact, I’ve been told by family that her Korean is better than mine. Once I was listening to her sing something in Korean, and I had no idea what she was singing. I asked her about it, and she said it was one of the Korean songs that she learned on YouTube. Now, she watches a variety of shows on YouTube in both Korean and English.
Overall, how I taught my child a second language was through conversation. By speaking it to her everyday, she was able to absorb it and eventually she made the connections and was able to formulate her own words back at me.
And you, my dear reader, tell me about a time when you were challenged but you were able to overcome it, similar to how I challenged myself to teach my child how to speak a second language.