How to Teach German for Kids

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One of the most important things you can do to help your children learn German is to motivate them by creating curiosity and interest. This is not as difficult as you may think. Children are very excited and open to learning. Once they start making progress and having success in learning, they will undoubtedly want to learn more. The following are 9 helpful suggestions to get your children to thirst for learning and to make progress in learning the German language.

1. Keep It Short, Simple and Positive

We all learn best when we have something that is short and simple to learn opposed to something that is long and difficult. Think of a time when you learned something because it was presented in a way that you could understand and it was not too much information to learn. An educational term for this is called “task analysis”. This means you break down the task to learn and you learn bit by bit until you have learned it in its entirety. For example, if you were teaching the German alphabet, you would teach a few letters at a time. Each day you would review those and add one or two letters before your child knows them all. Then, you can add sounds. Again, it is important to keep it short and simple so your child meets success and builds confidence. This in turn will encourage them to keep learning. Being positive is very important. To reassure someone that he/she is doing a good job and to offer genuine praise is also important. You should never raise your voice or expect too much from your child too quickly. By offering lessons that are short, simple and by being positive, your child will be excited to learn more. You will be able to move from the alphabet to words, and then onto phrases and sentences in no time!

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Think of something you are really good at doing. Then think of how you undoubtedly practiced to become that good. Maybe it is a certain sport like swimming or skiing, playing a musical instrument or dancing, or possibly drawing or painting. Everyone knows that if you practice, you will get better. Therefore, it is important to have your children practice the lessons you teach them so their German language skills improve. You should make the practice suggestions fun and also be open to practice any time…whether driving in the car, at the dinner table, before bed, at bath time, the possibilities are endless. When you connect learning throughout your child’s day, your children see language as integrated and can more readily meet success. In the 1960s, a Learning Pyramid was developed by the NTL Institute in Bethel, Maine, US. It states that learners retain approximately:

90% of what they learn when they teach someone else or use it immediately.

75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.

50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.

30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.

20% of what they learn from audio-visual.

10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.

5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.

3. Surprises, Fun and Games!

Everyone loves a surprise! So if you can incorporate the element of surprise and suspense in learning, this will help excite and continue to motivate your children. Think of babies who play “Peek-a-boo” and how they watch so attentively for you to say, “peek” and then they respond with a giggle or with urging for you to keep playing the game over and over again. You could put objects behind your back and have your child point to one of your hands and then they say the name of the object in German. You could have a scavenger hunt around the house and they would need to look for hidden objects and then say the words in German. To top off the language learning activity, you could have a “surprise” treat at the end (possibly a connection to something German like German chocolate or taffy). By incorporating fun and games into learning, children will experience just that…learning is fun! They will be more motivated to keep learning. You can play any number of childhood games in German like Hide-and-Seek, Tag or Simon Says. You can sing the alphabet in German and count objects (coins, candies, objects, etc.) play guessing games of colors, animals, and other simple vocabulary. Several online language games are available in German and your child will enjoy the variety of using a computer and choosing among the many creative, engaging games to play that increase in difficulty and build-in practice. Perhaps a German computer game could be an incentive. Board games are popular ways of learning German, too. Think of any game your child enjoys whether it be Checkers, Sorry, Chutes & Ladders, Candy Land, Bingo, Dominoes, Matching Games, etc. and play these by adapting the game to using the German language. You can count in German when you move your tokens and use as much German at your child’s second language level to play the game. The secret is to have fun!

4. Flash Cards

Flash cards are an effective way to learn a number of skills and concepts. Similar to motion images, flash cards work very simply. They create object-sign associations in your child’s brain after a short period of exposure. You can use pre-made German flash cards or make your own to practice with your child. Index cards, construction paper or any type of paper will work fine. Letters, words, phrases, pictures and any combination of these language forms will work. You can play matching games where the children turn over the cards and they draw two cards to try to get a match: maybe a letter to a word that starts with the letter, two letters that match, etc. It is important not to use too many cards at once. You can isolate a few to study and keep practicing those until they are mastered and then introduce new ones. Another suggestion is to make a chart of the skills learned. Perhaps it is an alphabet chart and when your child learns a letter, the letter is colored in on the chart. You could do this with words, phrases and/or sentences. The chart is an incentive, but you could build-in appropriate rewards when so many things are learned just to help keep the motivation level of learning German high. So speaking of rewards…look at tip #5.

5. Rewards

Although intrinsic learning is the ultimate motivator, it is fine to give intermittent rewards to children. This will encourage them to learn more and serve as a motivator. The rewards could be tied to the learning charts as previously mentioned or you could decide together what needs to be learned for a goal and then plan a reward. Perhaps your child is learning so many words in a category like body parts or farm animals in German. When this skill is learned, a reward could be given to your child for this mastery and hard work. Again, something German would be a great reward like German chocolate or candies, dinner at a German restaurant or making some German food at home. Maybe there is an German movie you could rent or a museum that has an exhibit of something related to Germany. Or if you wanted, the reward would not need to be linked to something German. It could be a trip to the park or zoo, or a favorite place your child likes, or a simple treat like ice cream or a movie at the theater, etc.

6. Audio Visual Stimuli

(Cartoons, Books on Tape, Music and Songs)

A trip to your local library or bookstore and/or searching online will find you some German cartoons, books on tape, and music and songs. Everyone learns best and stays motivated in learning when there are a variety of resources used in a variety of ways: visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. By using a variety of audio visual stimuli you will tap into your child’s modality strengths and interests. Seeing that the German language is alive in cartoons, books and stories, and in music/songs is a wonderful treat for your child. These materials will help motivate your child to maximize their learning of German. It will be a fun way to reinforce skills and to learn new skills, too.

7. Assorted Stories and Books

Picture books, nursery rhymes, children’s stories and fables, plays, finger plays, etc. are wonderful avenues to build on prior language and to foster new German language learning. The elements of colorful pictures, fun rhyme, interesting characters, lessons to be learned, exciting happenings and any type of movement all play a role in keeping your child motivated to learn more German. By reading and rereading, and encouraging your child to repeat after you or to say some of the repetitions in the book (rhyme, story, fable, play, finger play, etc.) will increase their short-term listening skills, auditory memory, and oral speaking. You can search for books on German history and culture for children and also share those. You could locate Germany on a map and globe and study the flag and some other cultural things related to Germany like children’s names, holidays, festivals and customs. You could read about places of interest in Germany. Some books will have chapters on German games to play with children and crafts to make. When you have time, you can incorporate some of these into your German lessons, too. Another suggestion is to take your child’s favorite literature and substitute a few of the words for German words. You can add more words when your child has developed a stronger vocabulary. Studies have shown that even background music and videos will increase your child’s vocabulary. So take the CDs in your car, play music at bedtime or bath time, and enjoy learning throughout the day!

8. Talking with Native Speakers

Another way of practicing German is to provide opportunities for your child to interact with native speakers of German. Maybe there are foreign exchange students from Germany at your neighboring high school or college. Perhaps there is a German professor at an area university. You could go to a German restaurant, grocery store, cultural center or museum, or any number of other places that German people may gather (church, school, community center, etc.) Possibly you could find a pen pal from Germany or find a family to Skype with on a regular basis. Maybe a foreign language club at a local school would be able to help you or that German restaurant owner might know of someone who would be a great match. By practicing the language your child has learned, or even by listening to it in several other settings, this will be motivating to your child. It is a wonderful way to foster new friendships and to see the relevancy of the language. Your child will be able to see progress, too, when communication is exchanged and understood by a native German person.

9. Asking Questions

If you know German, you can talk to your children in German and ask them questions about any of the things you are learning. If you don’t know German, you can continue to ask questions like “what is this?” to illicit an answer in German. You could ask your child to draw with colored chalk, crayons, and colored pencils or to paint an object when you give the directions in German. Or they can create something and you can ask them to tell you about it by using some German words like the number of something in the picture, the colors used, simple words or sentences, etc. By asking questions along the way, you can better gauge what your child has remembered and what they know, and what you need to review and reteach. To build on prior knowledge is key to learning more. It also is a great motivator when your children see they are learning and that the time spent with you is a valuable way to learn and keep learning.

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