Do you want to teach your child a second language?

tim johnsonDo you want to teach your child a second language?

I am happy to present a guest post from Tim Johnson, author of The Adventures of Bosley, the Language Bear books. He has written a series of dual language books to help young children learn a second language through dual storytelling. I reviewed his book, Bosley’s New Friends last week, which I really enjoyed.  His tips are very useful and creative! I especially love his tip about using a foreign stuffed animal. 

As a parent, there are so many reasons to teach your child a second language.  Maybe they have some international friends at school; maybe someone in your family, (your spouse?) is from a different country, maybe you enjoy travelling and want to instill that yearn for exploration into your youngsters.  Whatever reason it is, learning a foreign language is never a bad idea.  Besides the obvious benefits of being more “cultured” or “rounded”, the neurological stimulation that children get from learning a second language is by far one of the best.  Language learning requires right brain and left brain activity – creativity and structure.  In encourages concerted focus, but also encourages development of new and unique thought patterns.
Studies claim that bilingual children are better able to focus their attention on relevant information and ignore distractions.
Of course, accessibility to a more diverse pool of resources and connections with a greater diversity of people over the course of their lives goes without saying.  But how do we actually teach toddlers a foreign language.  Sometimes it can seem so difficult just to get them to speak the first one!
Avoid Language Confusion
Many parents and teachers are concerned about language confusion when teaching two languages.  I believe that children, in their infinite wisdom and intrinsic awareness, will inevitably notice the differences between the two languages, simply in the accent or delivery style of the words, however I also don’t think it would be a bad thing to separate the two languages, giving the first and second languages each their own “space”.
Foreign Stuffed Animal
One of the methods I use is to assign a stuffed animal to the second language.  The stuffed animal only speaks the second language and only responds to the second language.  This gives you the opportunity to make the language funny and entertaining, and also gives you a chance to take the very important role of translator between your child and the stuffed animal.  There will be a good deal of motivation for your child to learn how to speak with the little critter which is good – motivation is one of the keys that drives second language learning.
Label Household Objects
When your child gets to an age where they are starting to learn to sight-read words or sound them out.  It might be part of your practice to label things around the house in your first language to help them sight read.  This can be fun to do in both languages to give them more exposure to the visual aspects of the second language at the same time they are learning the first.  I would write the two languages is two different colors and keep it consistent throughout the house.
Decide on a Practical Plan and Stick to it
Whatever you plan to do, decide on a method with your spouse and caretakers and stick to it.  Language learning requires a lot of mental energy to succeed in, and repetition and consistency will not be wasted.
Make Silly Noises!
We all like to get a little wacky and make strange noises, your toddler (as you know) is certainly no exception.  They are experimenting with all of the noises that they can make with their mouth and vocal chords.  Encourage that experimental behavior and make funny noises yourself.  They will love copying you and challenging you at funny noises too.  Make some of these funny noises consistent with the accents and cadences found in your second language to help them build up a vocal dexterity that will help them with that language.
Play, Play, Play!
Make language learning fun.  I don’t believe in regimented lessons for babies.  Flash cards might have their place, but not for more than 30 seconds at a time.  Children’s brains want to learn – they thrive on it – but they also want to be entertained and have a good time.  Make learning part of play time instead of the other way around and be patient with the learning process.  It will come in time and when they do start catching on, they will enjoy it that much more.
Read dual language books
All children love reading books, or listening to you read books.  My 1-year-old twin boys always cuddle in our laps for story time before bed.  What they are doing is looking at interesting pictures and listening to the comforting sound of your voice.  The sound patterns are familiar because you (likely) read the same story over and over and over again.  These patterns (both visual and audible) are being impressed into their minds and they are learning how to distinguish each of the sounds and draw meaning from them.  They start to recognize patterns and they start to correlate the images to the sounds.  Dual language books are a great way to give them the opportunity to learn the same story in two different languages.
Don’t over-correct
Like I said, take your time with the learning process and let them learn at their own speed.  If they are saying something wrong you can correct them, but keep it fun and don’t get too picky.  They’re just kids after all – it’s not going to be perfect.  Over-correcting kids can discourage them if they are having trouble with a particular sound and can’t physically do it yet.  Or if they think they’re not impressing you, they may start to get discouraged.  Encourage them every step of the way and allow them to have fun with it and find their own way.  They will be much better in the end and will appreciate your support (in their own way, if only when they look back to their childhood at the ripe age of 25)
BYLINE:  Tim Johnson is the author of “The Adventures of Bosley Bear”, a growing series of dual language children’s books designed specifically to help young children learn a second language in a fun, relaxing way.  More information about Tim and his Bosley books (including supplemental teachers’ guide) visit:
Tim Johnson
Dual Language Books Designed to Teach


  1. I’ve already planned my children will speak three different foreign language. Because my wife and me both are fluent speaker of Spanish, Chinese and Italian. It’ll be fun to see our kids have knowledge in these languages. Thanks.

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