How I Taught My Child a Second Language

A string of colored flags are hanging from a tree
How I Taught My Child a Second Language

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.

Korean workbooks for kids
My daughter’s Korean workbooks

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.

See also: YouTube Video of My Daughter Speaking Korean

Please help me grow!

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Hi! I'm Helen and I am a 32 year old biracial millennial mom raising two multiracial children. I am a writer, English consultant, and social media manager. I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic.

57 thoughts on “How I Taught My Child a Second Language

  1. I wish more people had the chance to learn a second language early in life. I took German classes in high school as my ancestors came from there in the early 1700’s. Problem was, I never had a chance to use it and ended up losing it.

    In 2014 I took a contract job in Seattle. I had purchased a Pimmsler language course on CD’s. As I made the 1500 mile drive I listened to and spoke German. I was feeling pretty good about it but again, I had no one to practice with. I speak it in my head and try to find German articles to read but it’s hard to do. Im glad your daughter has someone to practice with.

    1. Absolutely, especially in certain parts of America, not everyone has the opportunity to learn two or three languages at such an early age. It really is the best thing for a child’s development. The same happened to me with Spanish. Eventually I forget my Spanish because I had no one to speak it with. With language, you have to keep using it otherwise you lose it, as my parents would say πŸ™‚
      Oh and if you ever need someone to practice German with, I would be open to it. I can speak German having learned it in college & a study abroad program in Berlin. I’m surprised that I still know it though I am a bit rusty. πŸ™

      1. Thank you for the offer…my German skills will at least provide some comic relief for you. 😁 I will take you up on that offer. Danke!

      2. Bitteschoen! I don’t know about that lol But feel free to contact me and we can set up a time to chat. But my German is not perfect

  2. Wow.. you would be proud of your daughter. Learning Korean is really fun. I have learned it to read and write (just by watching BTS performances) and now my goal is to learn this beautiful language (so I will be fluent) and to know more about Korean culture πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! And I am. That’s so awesome that you learned how to read and write in Korean. What are some attributes of Korean culture that is interesting to you?

      1. Thank you! There are so many things about Korean culture which I love but I’m most interested in their lifestyle, how they greet, respect people and most important thing.. discipline.

      2. That’s important. Should be adopted more in western countries too. My mom used to frown at how “disrespectful” people were in America because they used their first names. Even using “Mr/Ms (last name)” was disrespectful to her. In Korea, you don’t call someone older than you by their name

      3. How far I know, I think they are very similar. Yeah.. but you can see a big difference between Korean and Indian food. And people here worship a lot (can you tell me about Korean culture?).

      4. Oh yeah, there is definitely a difference with the food though I think both are pretty spicy, right? I’m not sure if Koreans worship a lot. I feel like it might be more similar to western culture in that regard, but not a 100% sure. There’s definitely a lot of respect toward elders from the way that you bow to how you accept money (with two hands, never with one hand). There’s the traditional clothing (hanbok) that people wear but only on special occasions. One huge thing that Koreans frown upon is writing with a red marker or pen. They believe it is bad luck to do so. Those are some things I can think of..
        Can you tell me more about Indian culture?

      5. Thanks for sharing so much about Korean culture. Here’s how far I know..
        Always respect your elders and don’t call them directly with their name (use uncle, aunt, sir, madam, sister, brother for strangers too). We don’t wear shoes inside home. When we greet uncle-aunties, teachers or older people, we touch their feet and then our forehead, it shows our respect to them. We shouldn’t worship the God if we have eaten something non-veg that day. We also worship to cows. Rice is our main meal. ‘Kathakali’ is our traditional dance form (you’d really like it). Diwali is a grand Indian festival (which is on 14th November), we light clay lamps this day, it’s my favorite festival. I can say more than half of Indian culture is religious.
        I hope you liked it. That’s how far I can think of.. Thank you.

      6. Oh wow! Thank you! That’s so interesting. Diwali sounds so interesting.. it sounds amazing. What is one thing that you like about western culture that is different from yours/?

      7. I don’t think that western people fight over religion (I’m not 100% sure). In India many people try to show that they are of high community because of their religion and try to show other religions weak. I hate this thing here, I mean you can’t decide a person’s place by his/her religion right? I think there’s more equality in western culture more than Indian culture. But many people are aware and open minded now and they want to live happily with everyone.

      8. Oh wow, no one’s ever called me that before, coming from an extended family in which I was the youngest. Um sure if you want.

  3. It’s so cool that you’re teaching your child a second language! I wish everyone would do it. I learnt English (my second language) purely from watching too much television as a child.

    All the best, Michelle (michellesclutterbox.com)

    1. Thanks! And I agree with you — it should be something that everyone should do. But, in the US at least, it is definitely not the norm though the idea of learning a second language from such a early age is gaining traction. Is this common where you live?
      Watching TV can definitely have its perks & can be a good complement to language learning .

  4. I love languages. So many pretty languages. And Korean has such pretty letters! ν•œκ΅­μ–΄μ„ μ‚¬λž‘ν•΄μš”.
    For reading help, try watching your favorite shows/videos/movies/etc with subtitles. Helps to connect the words with the dialogue.

    1. That’s a great idea! I usually watch them with English subtitles just because I like reading better than watching/listening lol
      I didn’t know you spoke korean though!

      1. Um… I have like a preschooler level understanding… I have that in several languages. I’m strongest in German, but I’d still only call it grade school skill level.
        Still need a lot of practice.

  5. Aww. It’s beautiful to learn a new language. They say it gives you a new side to yourself. I believe it too somehow. The person you are in one language is quite different from the person you are in another. πŸ’œ

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  10. Helen, one of your replies mentioned your mother thinking addressing an elder person as Mr./Mrs. was disrespectful. What is the proper way to greet an elder in the Korean culture? I’ve heard the term “mamma/pappa san” used by a GI friend who was stationed there. Is that proper?

    Very curious. Danke fur die information.

    1. Hello. In Korea, people don’t use their names. Instead they would use the term ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ for people older than them, or ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa’ for the elderly or ‘ma’am’ / ‘sir.’ The name isn’t used. for the longest I didn’t even know my older cousins’ names because I had to call them ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ to show respect.
      Hope this helps,
      Helen

  11. Being multilingual has lots of benefits! It’s fun and something you can boast about.😁 I can read and write in three languages, and I learnt writing Korean alphabets, hope I can speak it well someday.

    1. Absolutely!! It’s definitely fun and you do get bragging rights. What three languages can you speak?
      That’s awesome that you learned how to write in Korean — that is something that I am still working on.

      1. I can speak, read and write in Bengali and English, and though I can’t speak it well, I can read and write in Hindi.😊😊 And I would love to be able to speak Korean someday.πŸ˜‡

      2. That’s great. Are you still able to actively use all of your languages in your daily life? One common problem I have is not having enough exposure to the language.

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