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It's as easy as un, deux, trois...

Ed Cooke, co-founder of gamified language-learning app Memrise, is a World Memory Championship finalist and a Grand Master of Memory, which means he is able to do the following:

  • Memorise 1,000 random digits in an hour
  • Memorise the order of 10 decks of cards in an hour
  • Memorise the order of one deck of cards in under two minutes.

So when we found out that numbers of students taking on modern language A-Levels had dropped to the lowest rates in a decade, we asked him for tips on how we can get our children excited about learning a foreign language from an early age. And this is what he said…

Children’s brains are like sponges, writes Ed Cooke, so teaching them a new skill early on should be simple right? All those traits we love – inquisitiveness, mimicking and copying give them the ideal tools to practice and pick up a new language quickly so there is a lot of sense in teaching them while they’re young and curious. We know the benefits: enhanced educational and career prospects, potential new friends and more independence on holidays - taking off to order their own chocolat chaud with ease.

However, as we are all too familiar with, the enthusiasm and attention span for a new activity wavers very quickly, so here are my top tips to help encourage even the most reluctant child to champion their inner linguist:

1) Make it fun

Kids don’t chose to study a language, like us adults, so it’s only fair to make the whole learning process enjoyable for them, especially if they’re doing it after a long day at school. If a child feels they are being taught something, they often tune out and become uninterested so allow them to be creative. Try singing a song in the chosen language, watching films or reading books and playing games to ignite their interest and widen their curiosity of the country as well as the tongue.

2) Use pictures

Children react well to images so make learning as visual as you can – flash cards, picture books, apps and videos all help with this. At Memrise, we use different pictures to illustrate what a child is learning. For example, to help kids learn the different Mandarin Chinese signs, we change them into easily memorable depictions of animals and objects. This makes them laugh as they learn and they pick up trickier words much quicker.

3) Travel to a foreign country

Experiencing languages and cultures first hand is pivotal to learning a new language and really understanding its context, tone and pronunciation. Of course, this isn’t always possible so there are alternatives: try watching videos of native speakers to give your kids access to locals and how they communicate or, if you have any foreign friends, set up learning play groups or play dates, where children can become more aware of the languages spoken around them.

4) Speak it and then repeat it

Although it might not always feel like it, children cling on to every word we say, so if you have any knowledge of a foreign language, the best place to start with helping your child to learn it is to speak it - around them - all the time. Once they start to pick up bits and pieces, start to get them to repeat it with you. This is good to do on long car journeys, on the walk to school or while you’re cooking dinner. Keep it up and it will become a habit, rather than a sit-down-and-learn type chore. 

:: Ed’s app Memrise is currently on tour in Europe collecting micro-videos of locals across the continent using their language in context to compile the world’s largest video dictionary.



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