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Tips on Learning a Second Language

Learning a second language is a good thing, as it improves brainpower. Studying the brains of 105 people, 80 of whom were bilingual, researchers at University College London found that learning a new language altered gray matter the same way exercise builds muscles. However, learning a second language can be really challenging and an obstacle in the road to success.

In learning a second language we need to follow the same steps as when learning a first language:

1.) We need to develop a proper understanding of the language.
2.) We need to be able to communicate in that language.
3.) We need to learn to read and write the language.


The only way to become proficient in any language is to get enough opportunities to hear that language. There must be enough repetition of the same words, phrases and grammatical structures.

A practical way of providing a child with enough opportunities to hear language, is to let him listen to stories or recordings in that language. A story must be no more than 10 minutes long. Make a recording of this story, taking pains to read it as clearly as possible. Alternatively, you can buy a suitable story. You will also need a CD-player, Ipod or MP3-player with an auto-reverse function.

This recording must now be played to the child daily for at least an hour. However, it is not necessary for them to sit still and listen to the story. Rather, a background of language must be created, so that they can continue with their other daily activities against this background. The volume should be set so that the words will be clearly audible, but not so loud that it is disturbing. The recording could, for example, play while they are getting ready for school in the mornings, and while being transported to and from school.

After at least six weeks, the same procedure must be followed with a new story. The child must listen to it continually, again for at least six weeks.


If the parent is proficient in the second language, they can speak this language with their child on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Encourage the child to respond in this language as well.

Reading and writing

Make little word cards with the second language words on the front, and the English translation on the reverse. For example, if the Afrikaans word “onmiddellik” is on the front, the word “immediately” will be on the reverse. Let your child start by studying five word cards; add five new word cards to the pile every time they know the meaning of the words, and can read and spell them correctly. Regularly review and test old word cards.

Improving a child’s cognitive skills, especially auditory processing and auditory memory, will greatly accelerate the process of learning a second language.

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