When it comes to setting goals and helping your child stay motivated, it’s worth thinking about what specific things you would like your child to be able to say, or even better, what kind of knowledge they will need in a specific situation. Simply saying you would like your child to become fluent in a language makes the final goal sound huge. Of course, fluency is the final goal, but how can you break it down into steps that will help your child get there? Even native speakers aren’t experts in everything, so ask yourself: Why is my child learning this language?
“I want my child to be able to communicate with their relatives in my native tongue.”
“They’re going to study overseas—I want to prepare them for this experience.”
“Learning another language can help them get a better job in the future.”
“I think it would be nice if they could communicate with locals on our yearly holiday in Spain.”
Now that you have a specific situation in mind, setting goals is much easier. Don’t worry about “missing” out anything when it comes to language goals—they can always be adapted and changed as the situation demands. If your child needs to learn French to communicate with their relatives, they can always learn how to use academic French another time! The reason language goals are important is because it’s the best way to keep track of your child’s progress and ensure that you’re both working toward something, no matter how small.
Now let’s focus on laying out language goals. A good goal list would look like this:
Learn how to say sister, brother, parents.
Learn the numbers so they can state their age.
Learn how to say the names of their favorite hobbies.
How to order food at a restaurant
Make a list of their favorite food.
Learn how to say “I am allergic to shellfish.”
Write and act out a roleplay until they are comfortable ordering in a restaurant.
It’s worth noting that even though there are only two goals on this list, they are specific and short-term. The long-term goal is fluency, but long-term goals are actually made up of many short-term goals.
OK, now you know how to layout language goals, how about making sure that they’re achieved?
Introducing: Stress Free Consistency!
If there’s one topic that makes your child confused or frustrated, feel free to return to it at a later date, perhaps with a new game or another set of exercises that will approach the topic from a different angle. There’s no rush. Do as much as they can, then take a step back and slowly go over what they’re struggling with. Language learning shouldn’t be painful, and their brain can only handle so much!
Much like a child with a new toy, many people start off learning a new language with great enthusiasm. Nowadays there are all sorts of apps and textbooks that promise great results, but after a month or two of obsessive learning, many students find themselves exhausted. While their language skills might have temporarily gone up, they no longer have the motivation or energy to study again. Their learning might have been consistent, it was too intense! Language learning should be a daily habit that gradually builds up to fluency, and this is especially important for young learners who could easily grow to dislike language learning if they see it as a pile of homework waiting for them at home.
1 Minute, 1 Hour, 1 Day…
If your child can only study for 1 minute a day, then do so. Of course, they’re going to do much more than 1 minute, but the point of this is to build a consistent habit that grows over time. If they can do 1 minute today, how about 5 minutes tomorrow? 10? 20? 30? 45? If they can do 45 minutes a day but can’t hit 60 minutes, that’s OK! 45 minutes is their ideal time, so stick with it. But if one day you realize they’re exhausted after 45 minutes, feel free to reduce it down to 40, or even 30. The habit is daily, but both you and your child are the ones deciding the limits.
Never Give Up
It’s easy to feel like fluency is impossible when learning a language. No matter where you turn, there are always new words, new grammar, new things you didn’t know existed before and now your child has to learn them! It’s exhausting, right?
But is your child better than they were yesterday?
Are they better than they a month ago?
Are they better than they were a year ago?
Yes. They have improved. And they will continue to improve. Sometimes reminding your child to look back on the progress they have made is a great motivator—it can help them realize that language learning isn’t an impossible mission, but an adventure.