Nurturing Skills for the Future: Global Language Learning
Studying a language is more than just learning vocabulary, sentence structure, and tenses. New languages open up a new and exciting world of different cultures, foods, places, and people.
Learning more than one language not only broadens cultural horizons, but it has a ton of proven neurological benefits, especially for children.
Research shows that learning new languages gives children increased mental flexibility and helps improve problem-solving skills, communication skills, and critical thinking skills.
Considering all these amazing benefits, it’s a no-brainer for many parents to encourage their children to learn a second language.
In our most recent Clubhouse event, host Yho Mendez spoke to Len Loving about the importance of children exploring other languages and cultures, as well as how to keep them motivated to actually do it.
Len is Galileo’s Director of Meta-skills Learning and the Japanese club leader, while Yho is Galileo’s Learning Experience Architect as well as the Spanish club leader.
They shared their thoughts on...
… how to help children foster an interest in languages
… how to pick a language to study, as well as what tools to use
… and how to keep children motivated to learn.
Getting Started with New Language Learning Strategies
The idea of getting your child or student to learn another language is great in theory, but - like most new skills - the hard part is actually getting started.
With languages, one of the first hurdles to overcome is deciding which language to learn.
There is not necessarily a ‘right’ language to learn. The right language is different for each child, depending on their interests, passions, and objectives.
Simply put: the right one is the language that excites them.
It can be anything about the culture or country that interests them or captures their imagination and attention. It’s amazing how one small interest can open the door to other languages and cultures that they were not aware of in the first place.
In turn, this helps to find other areas of interest that they may never have even thought of.
When it comes to the actual learning part, this is the easy bit for children. Young, developing brains can easily pick up languages around them. It’s clear that the aptitude and skill are there.
So if this ability is already there, why are children not regularly learning a bunch of new languages?
The answer is intrinsic motivation. Like with a lot of learning, children need to want to immerse themselves in knowledge. If they have the intrinsic motivation to explore the information, that’s most of the job done!
Galileo facilitator Len, who is a parent himself, has had a similar experience. Living in Japan, his daughter has been exposed to both Japanese and English, both of which she has picked up easily.
Len shared that he really wanted to foster her language ability. He told us:
“I started exposing her to some different material through the things that she was already interested in. For example, she was already interested in Native American culture, and we had some early learning materials that were just simply talking about different peoples in different parts of the Americas. And in doing that, we were exposed to some minor sets of vocabulary from those different areas, and that got her interested and she wanted to learn. That resulted in us becoming interested in learning Cherokee together.”
Len’s story speaks to a more self-directed approach to language learning. Adults may have a preconceived idea of what it means to learn a language.
That is, in the traditional sense. This conventional understanding of learning a language involves rote learning the grammar, the vocabulary, the tenses, the sentence structure… the list goes on.
Play as a Language Learning Strategy
But what if we had a different approach to learning a language?
With self-directed learning, there is a large focus on play.
More specifically, using play as a means for children to explore their interests. So why not apply this to language?
“I've been thinking a lot about Peter Gray, and we think about what he said about self-directed education and play. I don't know if people think about languages in the sense of play. We think of languages, especially as adults, as grammar and vocabulary and you have to make flashcards and you have to drill, drill, drill, and practice, practice, practice. We can get kind of serious about our approach to languages because that's what we do when we get older. But how do we play with it?.”
So why not let children explore language in their own way, through play? Len has two pieces of advice when it comes to encouraging kids to explore the world of language.
- Become their learning partner. Children will naturally become interested in a lot of different things. As a parent or facilitator, it’s important to validate their interests and support them to learn more, access resources, and dive deeper into the topic.
- Make use of the tools around you. In this day and age, our kids have the world, quite literally, at their fingertips. There are so many free tools out there for young people to play around with. Even a platform like Google Translate can do the trick.
Discovering Effective Language Learning Strategies
One of the best parts of learning a language is being surrounded by it. However, when you’re learning a foreign language that isn’t spoken in your home country a lot, that can be tricky.
For kids and teens, one of the best ways to stay motivated and hold themselves accountable for their learning is through their peers.
In Galileo’s Japanese Club, Len shares that they have many different learners, all with different goals and at different skill levels. Some are there because they want to read Manga, some are interested in visiting Japan, and some are maybe even interested in living in Japan one day.
These different layers of learning help everyone in the club to stay motivated and keep up their interest in the language.
On the other hand, as a teacher or facilitator, it’s important to find a common thread between all the learners, to ensure that they are all connected on their various learning journeys. This can encourage those that perhaps only joined out of interest but then become inspired by the others who are speaking the language already, for example.
Len adds that:
“It’s important, as parents or as teachers, to just remind them that learning a language is not like learning maths or other things where, once you learn the rule, you just park that in your mind, and now you know that one is one and two is two, and three is three and that's it. Language is a living skill, you know, you're actually using both sides of your brain to actually function in the language.”
The fear of failure also comes into play when it comes to learning languages, especially when everyone is on different levels in a group scenario. However, language is human. In Len’s words:
“So when we hear that we just jump in - we encourage them and say how great that is and help them to realize that those little successes are actually much bigger than they realize. And the mistakes that they think they should fear are actually much smaller than they realize. So we tried to augment the good and dismiss the stuff that doesn't need to be pointed out because that's natural. And that's one of the beauties of language learning, natural mistakes.”
We all make mistakes, and there’s no need to be perfect. At the end of the day, we’re all lifelong learners in some respect. There will always be more to learn!
Are you interested in global language learning?
If you’re looking for a way to nurture happy, curious, and passionate children, then you’ve come to the right place.
We help future-looking families to empower their children beyond the classroom. At Galileo, we believe that all children are natural-born leaders with the potential to achieve anything they put their minds to.
We allow learners to curate their own learning journeys while supporting them every step of the way through our team of diverse, talented, and dedicated facilitators.
It’s time to revolutionize education. Join us!