Helping my child learn a second language

Experts say immersion is the best way to learn any new language. Although it may not always be possible to completely immerse your child in the target language, whatever you can do to make language learning a part of their daily routine will help. 

In his book Becoming Equipped to Communicate, language expert Michael Griffis says there are four important things people can do when learning any language:

  1. Spend time with native speakers
  2. Make time for regular planned practise
  3. Observe the culture
  4. Participate in real life activities in the language

When you are looking for ways to help your child practise language, it’s helpful to keep these four areas in mind. For example, is this activity giving them time with native speakers? Are they practising vocabulary or getting to participate in cultural activities?

To get you started, we’ve put together a list of practical things you can do to help make language learning a part of your child’s daily routine.

Enrol your child in a language course

There are many language courses available for kids with both online and face to face options. Here are some of the most popular online courses:

My Lingo Kids 

My Lingo Kids offer customised one-on-one lessons taught by native language speakers. They have three study groups for different ages, Kiddos (3-8 years), Youngsters (8-12) and Teens. In the Kiddos level, activities are designed to be capture children’s attention due to their short attention span.  

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone Homeschool is based on an immersion method with speech technology that analyses and corrects your child’s speech throughout the lesson. You can access the learning material online or offline, so it’d good for travelling. 

Mango Languages

Mango Languages focuses on vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and culture through everyday conversations recorded by native speakers. They offer courses in over 70 languages.

Hire a native speaking tutor 

Face to face tutoring means your child will be able to develop a friendship with a native speaker from your local area. A tutor also has the unique upside of being able to tailor language activities to suit your child’s abilities. This is generally more expensive than online programs, but it may be worth the investment as Mum and Dad can get to know the tutor too and make language learning a whole family experience. 

There are many websites for hiring a tutor, you can even find one on Airtasker. It’s best to search for a local tutor if you’re wanting face to face lessons. 

Find a study group  

Schools often have study groups for learning language. For example, in NSW, Australia, the Community Languages Schools program offer classes in more than 60 community languages with after school and weekend study groups. 

Join a playgroup

Children learn through play, and this is no different for learning language. Try looking for a playgroup in your local area with parents and kids who speak the language your child is learning. 

Download a language app 

These 4 apps make learning language fun and teach vocabulary in bite-sized pieces. 


With bite-sized lessons, your child will earn points with DuoLingo as they learn vocabulary and unlock new levels. It is available in over 100 langauges.

Dino Lingo 

Dino Lingo is specifically designed for children, with online language learning games, videos, songs, books, worksheets and flashcards. It is available in over 50 languages. 


Languagenut offers practise in all four key skills​– Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing with interactive games and sentence building exercises. It is available in over 20 languages. 

Mondly Kids

Mondly Kids offers gamified lessons around popular topics such as animals, nature, food family or sport. It offers quick daily lessons for children, while feeling more like play. 

Participate in cultural activities 

Learning culture is just as important as learning language when communicating cross-culturally. Some activities you can do in the target language as a family are below:

  • Go to a restaurant where the language is spoken and practise ordering food together
  • Read a simple story with pictures in the target language 
  • Play games that include simple commands in the language (i.e. Simon says jump, run, etc). 
  • Watch a movie in the target language
  • Learn traditional nursery rhymes and songs
  • Cook a simple dish from the country 
  • Buy items from a traditional shop
  • Go to a place of worship where the language is spoken and learn the different parts of the service.  
  • Make an item specific to the culture, i.e. basket weaving or dot painting
  • Play a traditional game, like cards or checkers

If you live in the country where the language is spoken by the majority, then any daily activities can be an opportunity for learning new vocabulary, like taking public transport and shopping for groceries. 

Frequently asked questions

What is the best age for a child to learn language?

Of course, children have short attention spans and will find artificial classroom activities more challenging than adults or teenagers. But what children excel at is imitating native speakers.

A recent study by Harvard MIT showed that it’s best to learn a second language by age 10 to achieve a speaking proficiency to that of a native speaker. 

The good news is that children remain very skilled at learning the grammar and pronunciation of a new language until the age of 17 or 18. If they start after the age of 10, they will still learn quickly but then they have a shorter window before their ability declines.  

There is a debate about whether language learning ability declines at birth, at 5 years old or at puberty. Although adults make good language learners, the researchers in the Harvard and IMT study concluded that learners will not reach native speaking ability if they start as a teenager or later. 

However, age is not the only factor in determining language ability. Studies have shown that people learn best when they have an emotional connection with native speakers. Then they will be desperate to communicate and will learn language from a real-life situation rather than as a theoretical exercise. Sheer determination and strict schedules aren’t the best motivators.

How fast can you learn language?

The University of Cambridge suggests that at least 200 hours are required to communicate simply in a new language and at least 1,200 hours to become fluent.

In reality it may take more than that if you want your child to learn the language and culture to a deep level. This might sound discouraging, but keep in mind that children learn through play. They don’t have to be actively focusing on language in order to learn from other children.

How much time should children practise per day?

It comes down to the more time invested, the better. You’ll need to create a balanced routine for your child that incorporates play and practise and is manageable for them. It’s not necessary for your child to spend hours each day on a language app, not only because too much screen time is unhealthy, but also because it’s important to have real life practise of vocabulary.

What makes a good language program for kids? 

As we mentioned previously, a good language program has four elements:

  1. Time with native speakers
  2. Regular planned practise
  3. Opportunity to observe the culture
  4. Real life activities in the language

Your child may begin communicating simply after learning how to string basic sentences together in the target language. If they are not comfortable speaking at first, that’s completely normal. It’s important for them to have some time to listen before they speak.  They need to understand pieces of languages first before they will grow in their ability to produce those pieces of language.

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