Using Puppets to Teach a Second Language

If you are considering teaching your small child a second language at home, there are many options. One of the most efficient ways is to combine nursery rhymes, reading and a puppet play.

While nursery rhymes are great for introducing new sounds of a foreign language to children from very early on, reading is wonderful for expanding vocabulary and overall language consolidation. A puppet is a great way to simulate a real everyday conversation with a friend.

Puppets enable parents to draw a line between a parent that speaks the mother tongue and a stuffed (toy) friend that speaks a different language. Many kindergartens use this method when the same teacher that takes care of children throughout the day also offers English lessons a few times a week.

Few tips ahead
There is no universal manual, as each child is different and likes to do different things. However, there are a few things that are common to every puppet play and that should be followed. These general tips will make your puppet play smooth, well-organized and super effective.

In the first place, think what kind of a puppet you would like to have. The only precondition is that your child must like the puppet and so must you, as you will be the one in the puppet’s shoes. There is a great variety to choose from – it can be an animal, fairytale character or simply a girl or boy. Or you can just make your own simple puppet out of a sock. There are great video manuals online, on how to create such a puppet.

Try to choose a puppet that can move its mouth. Your child will be fascinated by it and will not have much time to wonder about you speaking for the puppet.

Pick a name for the puppet that is a typical name from the culture the puppet is going to represent. The name should be simple so that your child can easily remember and pronounce it.

Keep the puppet in a secret place out your child’s sight and don’t leave it among other toys, or your child might lose interest in it within a few days. Make the puppet play a special occasion, a special way of parent-child time together.

Puppet friend
A puppet can become a real friend to your child. It comes for a short visit, ideally on a daily basis and plays with your child.
During the play ,the child picks up the language easily as it is a natural process of learning. While the child is sure to speak her mother tongue, at least in the beginning, the puppet speaks only the second language. It makes simple comments during the play, asks questions and interacts with the child as a friend would do. It also repeats in the second language what the child says in her mother tongue as if to make sure it understands what the child is saying. This enables the child to hear the second language version of what was just said.

Regular visits
Naturally, your child won’t be able to understand everything from the very beginning. But she will be able to understand the gist from the context. Try not to use translation to make it easier for the child. Let the child soak in the context and understand the gist. If the situation requires any translation, translate just the key word in a low voice and quickly.
If the puppet pays regular visits, the child will get used to the sound of the new language and pick up the most frequent words and phrases very soon.

While some children might start interacting actively little by little from very early on, other children will stick to their first language and respond to the puppet by action only. Each child is different. Do not put pressure on your child to speak the second language. Responding by action is great enough.
And always remember that enjoying the time and play with your child is the key to learning.

This article is a kind contribution by Petra Vojtova, Double Bubble.