The ABCs of teaching an additional language in the Foundation Phase

5 min read   •   November 2, 2023
Kyra Roodt

Understanding how children learn a language is essential if you decide to introduce your learner to an additional language, especially in Grades R to 3. During these formative years, a child’s brain is exceptionally receptive to language acquisition – they absorb vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation with remarkable ease.

Why teach an additional language?

Bilingualism, or being proficient in two or more languages, offers a wide range of cognitive, cultural, and social benefits, including:

  • Improved problem-solving abilities
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Stronger language skills
  • More effective communication
  • Cultural sensitivity

Speaking two or more languages has also been proven to help maintain mental agility and cognitive flexibility and could potentially delay the onset of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Read more: Say yebo to isiZulu! The benefits of multilingualism

How does language development work?

As an Impaq Homeschooling parent, you have the unique advantage of tailoring language instruction to your learner’s needs and pace. By recognising and harnessing the stages of language development, you can adapt your teaching approach to your child’s evolving linguistic abilities.

Infants and toddlers start developing language with babbling and cooing, which forms the building blocks of speech. As they grow, they begin to grasp the basic sounds and intonations of their home language, a process known as phonological development. This is when young children learn to mimic the sounds they hear around them. As their vocabulary expands, they begin combining words into simple sentences, which marks the onset of grammatical development.

In the Foundation Phase, learners’ language skills become more refined. They gain a deeper understanding of sentence structure, vocabulary, and the different nuances of communication.

When is a good time to start teaching an additional language?

Learners between the ages of 3 to 7 are particularly receptive to new languages. However, our Foundation Phase expert, Hilda Erasmus, reminds parents that every child is different: “Some children speak in full sentences by the time they are 1, while others may only do so by the age of 3 or 4”.

To learn an additional language, the brain must make room for new information. Hilda cautions against teaching an additional language too early: “Teaching your child an additional language before their home language is sufficiently developed may lead to parts of their mother tongue being lost and could make it more difficult for them to make the correct word choices. In turn, they may simply choose not to speak at all. This is why we start teaching an additional language in Grade 1, when we know that the learner’s home language is well-embedded”.

Also read: How to build a solid foundation: Maths in the Foundation Phase

Cultivating a language-rich environment

When teaching your learner an additional language, it is vital that they try to speak the new language. Hilda notes that practice makes perfect, which is crucial for embedding the additional language. So, how can you ensure you are cultivating a language-rich environment for your child?

  • Consistent exposure:

Listening to a language is one of the best ways to learn! Try to incorporate stories, audiobooks, and poems in the target language into your daily routine. Consistency is key to building language proficiency. Impaq’s wide range of Foundation Phase readers is a fun and engaging way to introduce your learner to stories in English or Afrikaans.

  • Interactive learning:

Engage your child in activities like games and songs. Interactive learning makes language acquisition fun and more memorable. You can also use visual aids such as flashcards, picture books, and even videos to reinforce vocabulary and grammatical concepts. Cami Literacy is a highly effective computer program, ideal for learners just getting started by introducing new sounds and words and fostering proficient reading and speaking skills. On the other hand, learners who are looking to hone their skills may benefit from Cami Reader, designed to empower learners to achieve fluency and reading proficiency.

  • Cultural exploration:

Introduce your child to the culture associated with the target language. Exploring music, movies, and cuisine from countries where the language is spoken to make the learning experience more holistic and engaging.

  • Immerse in real-life contexts:

Use the target language in real-life situations as much as possible. You can do this by labelling objects around the house, describing daily tasks, and engaging in conversations. Consider using Impaq’s Foundation Phase posters in the additional language to help your learner grasp basic concepts.

  • Modelling:

Be a language role model! Use the target language in interactions with your child. Hilda’s top tip for language modelling is never to tell your learner they are speaking incorrectly but rather to repeat the phrase with the correct words or sentence construction.

Remember that learning a new language is a process; every child progresses at their own pace. Creating a supportive and immersive language environment at home can be a powerful way to help your Foundation Phase learner become proficient in an additional language.