How to Help Your Child Learn a Second Language

How to Help Your Child Learn a Second Language
Team Nishimachi


“Researchers specify that children participants in their studies must spend 30% or more of their time in the minority language (approximately 25 hours a week) [in order to become bilingual],” Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph.D., in her book Raising a Bilingual Child

Pearson is a Research Associate in Linguistics and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

If children have only 40 to 60 minutes of their second language at school daily, you, as their parent, need to make sure they are using it at home in the morning, evening, and on weekends.

To make sure they are getting enough input in their second language each day, you need to set goals, plan, and immerse them in the language - be it in sports, day camps, or playdates. You can also plan activities for your child where they are using their second language. With this strategy, not only does your child learn a second language, they get to do it in a fun way and you can get involved as well.

Below we explore four activities you can use to help in raising a bilingual child.



two young students are playing a game with dice in class

Flashcards are an exceptional way to help you in raising a bilingual child. Not only do they get to make these cards from scratch - a creative activity on a rainy afternoon - they can get so many different uses out of them.

Possible flashcard activities include:

  • Memory game: To do this you’ll want to either draw or glue a picture with a word underneath in the second language. You flip them so it’s the blank side of the card facing upwards and start to play the game. Your child - and you - can take turns trying to match the pictures.
  • Story prompts: Spread out the flashcards with pictures and words underneath them in a straight line. Then ask your child to create a story pointing from picture to picture in their second language. As they speak, ask them questions to encourage them to elaborate.
  • Guessing game: For this activity, ask your child to put the flashcards against their foreheads - you will do the same. Then, each person gets a turn to ask questions to give them clues as to what picture (person, place, or thing) they have.


Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is something all children love as an activity. They get to problem solve, analyze complex sentences and learn to work together.

To help you in raising a bilingual child, write the riddles in the second language as this will take your child’s understanding of the language beyond solely reading a sentence. Get them to ask questions in their second language while looking for the clues and you can answer in their first language. This helps them seamlessly jump between the two.

In order to encourage them to keep working their way from clue to clue, place a fun prize at the end.





Watching TV

learning a second language_two young students are using an iPad in class and laughing while learning

It’s no secret children love TV so why not use this time to help them learn their second language?

“This can build a discussion and vocabulary around deeper concepts so you’re not just talking superficially, you’re talking about love, life, and politics; academic language grows that way organically,” said Erin Kent, Literacy Strategist for international schools.

“When academic language grows organically, it automatically makes you a better reader and a better writer in the language.”

Be it the news, Saturday morning cartoons or Friday movie night, watching TV in a second language is one fun way to help you in raising a bilingual child.

A few Japanese programs we recommend are:

  • Spirited Away
  • サザエさん (さざえさん) – Sazae-san
  • ドラえもん (どらえもん) – Doraemon

The key to language development will be in the discussions that surround the programs that your child has watched on TV.


Reading Bilingual Books

learning a second language_student is reading and writing at desk

Finally, reading bilingual books to and with your child is one of the most beneficial activities to help them in learning a second language.

Studies show reading to your child, and having them read to you, helps expose them to language early on; it strengthens their vocabulary, spelling, listening skills, and reading comprehension.

Just make sure to read to them and then have them read to you. Read the book in one language and then discuss it in the second one.

Raising a bilingual child is something that needs to be continually worked on, you need to make clear goals, plans, and immerse them in the language in whatever means possible. Another tactic is enrolling them in a school with a strong language program.

Learn more about Nishimachi International School’s Japanese Language Program.

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