Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps

How do I teach my kids a second language?

This is the most common question I hear from parents, so I’m bringing it down to the basics and sharing a printable 5-step action plan with you all! Raising multilingual children in monolingual countries like the United States is not easy, and many parents aren’t sure when or how to begin.

To make matters more challenging, kids tend to favor whatever language his or her friends are speaking (eg, English in our case).

Therefore, if you want your child to learn a second language, daily support is necessary at home.

5 tips for teaching your child a second language at home

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How to teach a second target language

When giving advice about this topic, I prefer to use the term “target” and not second language, because target suggests that goals are in place to prioritize the minority language(s).

In our family, the target languages are Chinese and Korean.

At the time of this article, my 4-year-old daughter speaks Chinese fluently and reads 800+ Chinese characters despite my lack of fluency and literacy.

My tips are based on my family’s Chinese learning strategies and the advice I have received from other multilingual families.

5 Key Steps for teaching a minority language at home

In this post, I will give specific resources related to our family’s languages. 

However, please note that the 5 key steps in teaching your child a minority language apply to any language.

To improve the chances of learning the target language, a language-rich environment is necessary.

I highly suggest making a to-do list and tackling at least two of the steps each day!

Download the printable action plan at the end of the post!

Ways to support a child's second language at home - immersion language acquisition

1. Speak the target language (eg, Chinese, Korean)

If you speak Chinese or Korean and want your child to learn it, the first thing to do is to start talking!

The sooner the better, and try very hard not to switch back to the dominant language.  If the parent switches to English, then naturally the kid will also switch.

Consistency is necessary so that it’s habit to think and reflex to reply in the minority language.

Parents who don’t speak the target language will need to outsource:

For more ideas, research these 10+ ways to find a language teacher for your child.

2. Listen to Chinese and Korean music

Singing and dancing are so fun for kids!  At home, we mainly listen to Chinese or Korean music, which I realize may be too restrictive for many families, but it’s made a huge difference for us.

Of course, we love English music, too!  However, since my daughter is learning new English songs in preschool and Sunday School, we’ve decided to focus on Chinese and Korean songs at home.

For families with young children who are just starting out, my recommendations for clear and pleasant children’s music include the following:

Choose music that suits your child’s age and preference!

3. Chinese and Korean audiobooks and videos

Unless you live in a community that shares your target language, your children probably won’t hear many other people speak the language. 

Therefore, audiobooks and videos are ways to expose your children to a variety of native speakers.

Audiobooks

With minimal preparation, you can listen to audiobooks in the car or during quiet time.

For Chinese, many audiobook apps are freeXimalaya broadcasts a variety of Chinese books. The kids regularly use Luka Reading Robot which narrates thousands of Chinese picture books.

Here are more free Chinese stories and tips on how we use audiobooks to learn Chinese.

Related: 有道 Youdao Dictionary Reading Translation Pen for Chinese-English Learners

For Korean, we are gradually learning about more resources in our bilingual Facebook group.

Videos

For older kids, you can look for Chinese and Korean options on Netflix and Amazon Prime. There are also many free Korean and Chinese shows on YouTube.

Please note that videos are passive and should be used in moderation due to the negative effects of fast-paced and excessive screen-time.

4. Build a Chinese and Korean home library

In addition to “passive learning” of speaking/comprehension through normal conversation, music, and audiobooks, children also need to see the language.

Visual cues serve as prompts for speaking the language!  If you live in an English-speaking community, street signs and household labels are in English.

Therefore, you will need to make sure words in the target language are visible.

The 2 main ways that we make Chinese and Korean visible is by:

It’s so important to read to your child everyday and have options that they are interested in!  Let them take the lead in choosing a favorite book for story time.

Sure, you can translate English books to a different language, but your child may prefer the English words over what you say.

Therefore, if your local library has a limited selection of multilingual books, I highly recommend creating a language library at home.

Most of our books are from online Chinese bookstores and Korean bookstores.

Pottery Barn Kids Book Rack to Display Book Covers
Chinese and Korean books on our bathroom book rack

5. Do fun activities in Chinese and Korean with your kids

My most important advice for teaching a minority language is to make it as fun and natural as possible with real interaction!!

Since kids are making exciting new memories at school and extracurricular activities with their friends in English, we need to think about how we can engage our children and make special memories at home with the target language.

When my daughter was two, I started incorporating Chinese learning while playing hide-and-seek!  It was a simple, low-stress way to learn many common words.

Then, when I realized how much my daughter loved art, we mixed Chinese literacy with our crafts.

Whatever it is that your child likes (eg, soccer, jumping, puzzles, imaginative play), integrate learning with those interests!

If you’re lucky enough to have sports, dance, or other lessons in the target language, take advantage of those opportunities.

Kids will learn more from those experiences than being forced to plow through a textbook.

Check out our Educational Activities Library for a variety of ideas!

Chinese learning activities menu for kids

Start your family’s bilingual / multilingual journey with this printable 5-step action plan!

You can download the printable 5-step language learning to-do list and action plan in English, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese by clicking one of the following links:

If your family speaks another minority language, I strongly advise that you make a to do list in your target language (eg, visual cues)!

Recommended articles about raising multilingual children

For more advice on raising multilingual children, I highly recommend the following posts:

Happy playful learning, friends!

6 Comments

  1. Wow this is super helpful! Thanks for breaking it down. I find myself getting overwhelmed, having a short list like this will help me stay focused. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for the kind feedback! I’m so glad to hear that it’s helpful. I also get overwhelmed, but I think succinct, focused to-do lists make goals more attainable! Best of luck to you!

  2. Thanks for this post! It is very helpful. I am trying to teach my children Mandarin as well but it is mostly speaking. They do poorly in reading and writing. Will definitely try your tip #4 and #5! I want them to learn a bit of Filipino as well so this a good post to guide me ^^ Love your blog and instagram account ^^

    1. Hi Jan! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share. I hope the tips help your kids with learning all languages! Keep me posted on how things go, keep persevering!

  3. Like others mentioned, I too find myself getting easily overwhelmed and emotional by the desire (and need) to teach my son the target language (English while living in Finland and being surrounded by Finnish speakers). Thank you so much for good, clear advice! I will use it for sure!

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