Seasoned language learners of all ages will know that reaching the “speak with confidence” stage is one of the toughest parts of language learning, and most of the time it isn’t about not being able to speak—it’s the fear of speaking in the first place.
So how can we help young learners overcome this hurdle? Well with enough preparation and a few smart tactics we’re going to cover in this blog, you will realize that it’s not only possible for your child to sound confident when speaking a language, but to feel confident too.
Tip 1: Learn Scenarios and Situations
Can your child answer questions like these?
What’s your name?
How are you?
How long have you been learning [foreign language]?
Where are you from?
How old are you?
Do you have any hobbies?
What’s your favorite food?
Basic questions like these are an excellent starting point for any language learner, because these questions will always be repeated, and helping your child learn a few set answers to common questions is a good way to prove to them that they can do it and to avoid the worried “I can’t say anything!” response.
As your child becomes more familiar with the language and learns new vocabulary, these topics can be heavily expanded. Asking someone about food could lead to a discussion about the food they want to eat, and asking someone what they do for fun can lead to an interesting conversation about hobbies. Much like conversations between adults, simple topics can lead to interesting conversations!
Moving on from general questions, how about some more practical phrases? Many children learn languages for practical reasons (talking to relatives, school trips, holidays) and being able to survive in another country could be can mean the difference between being an ordinary tourist or someone who can navigate a destination with confidence and interact with the locals.
Can your child understand and respond to these questions?
Excuse me, how much does this cost?
Excuse me, where is the restroom?
How do I get to the hospital?
Can you help me?
Excuse me, could you say that again?
Can you speak [insert your native language]?
(This is an important one to learn for emergencies!)
Remember, while learning scenarios and situations is incredibly useful for a variety of situations, there’s no such thing as a perfect set of answers for every situation. You might find that Grandma will use a word they haven’t heard before, the tour guide might have a strong accent, or that the shopkeeper might explain in confusing terms about a new product they’re selling. It’s impossible to predict everything, so always remind your child that if a conversation strays into unfamiliar territory it’s OK to slow things down and ask questions. Just let them know that for every question they ask and every question they answer, they’re gaining experience and improving their language skills!
Tip 2: Relax, Take It Easy
It might sound strange, but it’s important to make sure your child knows that they’re having a conversation with a real person. It's not a test--no one is going to give them a grade or punish them for gettings things wrong. A lot of mistakes are made in moments of panic, so the calmer they are, the smoother the conversation. Encourage them to think of each conversation as not only a chance to practice speaking but a chance to make a connection with another person.
They will have hundreds of conversations during their language learning journey and over time they will become more complex and engaging. They will make many mistakes. This is good.
Tip 3: Celebrate The Little Victories.
Did they manage to introduce themselves to someone new today?
Did they use some new vocabulary correctly today?
Did they have a conversation without switching back to their native tongue?
Did they understand everything someone said to them today?
Nobody thinks about these kinds of interactions when speaking in their native tongue, but these interactions in a foreign language are real victories and are proof that they’re able to use the language in real life. Celebrate with your child! Their hard work is paying off!