5 activities to support foreign or second language acquisition

The secret of learning a language is that there is no “secret”, basically a language is a tool for communication, and the best way to learn it and practice it is communicating. However, this can be difficult on a day to day basis, especially if both parents and children are busy with work, school, after school clubs and their social lives. So, this is when we really need our imagination and crafty hands to come up with interesting and fun activities that don’t look too much like “school” work.

Craft with bilingual children

1. Stop-motion and modelling clay day: I got this idea one day at my local library. A couple of youngsters working in a local association had put up an activity for the arts week. Basically they were using a load of modelling clay and crafty bits so children could make their own monsters. Later they would set up the characters in front of a camera, with a background and record a stop-motion movie. I did this activity with my French group and everybody loved it, the children got engrossed in creating little monsters and the parents helped them later on with a short movie. All the time everybody was speaking in French, and children heard and learnt new words, while at the same time meeting new and old friends and having a great time. We only did a very, very short movie, but the experience was very interesting especially as all the kids were under 5. You can check our movie out here.

You only need some modelling clay, crafty bits like goggly eyes, a bit of cardboard, pipe cleaners, or even short spaghetti (that I’ve just learnt can be used to make hedgehogs sticking them in a bit of modelling clay). For the software, we used an iPad and downloaded a very cheap app, it was only 5.99. With it you could record the movie and even record voice.

The feedback was very positive, given that everybody had fun, they felt they were doing something meaningful, and on top of that we covered the main aim of our group, getting the children immersed in the French language!

 

2. Music and rhythm: This is an activity I learnt from a reception class in a British school. In the UK kids start reception when they are 4 years old, so you would have 4 and 5 year olds in the same class.

The idea is getting them sitting and listening while doing something with their hands and feet, active learning. So, create a rhythm, ask them to clap their hands, then clap faster, then slower, then ask to skip one, so for instance first kids claps fast, next kid slow, next kid fast, and so on. You can repeat this with tapping feet, or any other movement or action you can think of. The idea is creating something like a rhythm and sequence. You can add musician instruments in the mix.

This way you will use language that the children will think it’s meaningful, as when you say “clap your hands” they will do this, so they know there is immediate reward, to get it right, join in and have fun. It is a nice way also to learn parts of the body and names of actions. You can adapt it to your own language. For instance, if there is a difference in how you use a word when it’s just one and when there are two, you can use this difference, “do this with one hand, now do these with two hands”, and so on.

3. Show and tell: In some groups this may work very well, if they kids are already speaking your home language. Also, shy children may be encouraged to speak, or even in they don’t this time, they may get the idea and have a go the next time. Ask children to bring something to the meeting, for instance their favourite toy, or something that they really like. They have to show it to the others, talk about it and answer questions.

4. Christmas card recycling: You can do this activity either after Christmas, or ask people to give you their old Christmas cards and keep them for the following year and do the activity before Christmas. Get the kids to bring their old Christmas cards, cut them up and you can get them to do a collage. Individual collages are a good idea, so they have something to show at home, or you can do a group one and show it as an example of collaboration.

Use the activity to encourage the use of vocabulary, by saying out loud what people are doing and what they have to do, for instance, “now we are cutting the cards”, “Peter is gluing the card”, “we have many different things, a Christmas tree, a flower, etc.”

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5. Bookmark making activity: Laminators are simple but great inventions. With a few sheets of craft card in different colours, a few pictures cut out from magazines, dry flowers and any other bits and pieces people like, you can create amazing bookmarks. Just get the kids to glue their items on a bit of card that you have previously cut in the shape of a bookmark. Get a few together, place them in a laminating pouch, laminate and voilà, your bookmarks. Now you just have to cut them individually and punch a hole with a hole punch. Threat a bit of wool or ribbon through the hole, tie it up and that’s it.

Again as in the activity above, you can use the crafty time to encourage children and parents to talk in the language and use the vocabulary related to that activity. You can decide on a topic, so it could be animals, so children could practice that vocabulary, or it could be something else, you decide!

 

These are just a few basic ideas, it is by no means a comprehensive list of things that you can do to boost your children’s language acquisition. But what it is, however, is an example of how “normal” activities, those that you would do at any playgroup or even in a play date with friends, can be converted and adapted to language acquisition, even language learning in the foreign language classroom.

 

Do you have any other ideas that you would like to share with us?

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Hi
    Thank you for your suggestions, I absolutely love the idea of making characters out of clay and naming your actions in the language you teach. I have started writing some ideas in my blog about learning English with my child in a Russian-speaking family living in the UK.
    http://www.myenglishhour.com/blog-bilingualism-or-learning-english-with-my-child

    Best wishes

    Yulia

  2. Hi Yulia,
    Thank you for your comment and posting the link to your blog. It is actually quite interesting to read about a different experience. Obviously your main language at home is Russian, and you are helping your child to improve his English for nursery. Which is a quite different experience from mixed families, where there is English and a foreign language.
    I will be interesting to follow the development of your child and see if the balance of languages shifts once Sol starts nursery!

  3. Lowell Niles says:

    Hello,
    Thanks for posting! I am the father of a 15-month old girl. I speak 3 languages (English, Spanish, and Japanese) and my wife speaks 2 languages (English and French) so we are trying to expose our girl to all of them!
    One activity she loves (and which you mentioned) is music. She already recognizes “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in four languages! She can’t speak yet, but when we say the words, she points to those body parts.

    Check out:
    https://youtu.be/SkJEiXEXygM

  4. Great tips! We are coming from a different angle, since we are an English-only household, but the kids are learning Mandarin and Spanish. Because I have largely bought into the “learn from a native speaker” philosophy, I pursue opportunities for them to listen and talk to others in these languages. Unfortunately it means I can’t do much with these activities, but I’m going to give some thought to make them work anyway!

    I just published a post on all the things we are doing to support language acquisition in our children. I would love for you to check it out! https://magnetsfromeverywhere.com/2017/06/12/raising-multilingual-children-in-a-monolingual-home/

    • Thank you for the link to your post. It really looks wonderful how you are developing your children’s foreign language skills. The idea of a Mandarin ballet class or a Spanish soccer class sound great, as it is language in context.
      You are really lucky living in a very multinational area with multiple opportunities.

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