6 Foreign Languages Kids Should Learn

Get Kids to Learn Chinese, Italian, and More

Mandarin Chinese

Given China's vast population, growing economy, and increasing political power, experts recommend learning Mandarin Chinese, the main spoken dialect. "The language's tones make it sound more like a song, which is a tool utilized in teaching young children for other subjects. The written characters look like pictures, which appeals to younger children who are usually visual learners," says Nicole St. Leger, a teacher of Mandarin Chinese at Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg.

Corinne Dillon, founder of Discover Mandarin (discovermandarin.com) believes that "learning [Mandarin] provides key insights into one of the world's oldest, continuous civilizations, which also happens to be the world's fastest growing economy." Learning the language is beneficial for your child's future career prospects. "Employers in our country and other countries need people to speak Mandarin to conduct business. This is not a trend that is going to be changing any time soon," St. Leger says.


In many schools, Italian is outpacing French as the language to master. Matt Drucker, founder of Italian Language Littles (italianlanguagelittles.com) in Massapequa, NY, isn't surprised. "Over the past five years, we have seen an increase in inquiries and a significant increase in the number of school-age children enrolling. For many parents and grandparents, giving their children a better understanding of their heritage plays a big part in enrollment."

There's also an educational advantage to learning Italian. "It's the closest Romance language to Latin, and because about 60 percent of the English language is Latin-based, outside of studying Latin itself, Italian can be a major advantage on the SATs," Drucker says. Although the language is not considered a global powerhouse, Italy has the eighth largest economy in the world, and many big-name companies (such as GE and IBM) have offices there, so mastering the language can lead to career opportunities.


Germany has the fourth strongest economy and is the number-one export nation in the world (many American companies are owned by German companies). Because English is a Germanic language, some words and their origins are similar, which can make German an easier language for kids to pick up. More than 5 million people in the U.S. speak German, and it's popular in various places around the world (89 percent of the Austrian population speak German and 65 percent in Switzerland). It's a key language to learn in the current global economy too. "In Europe, schoolchildren are learning German because their economy is the strongest there," Antonini says.

Germany is consistently ranked in the top 10 visited countries (it's currently No. 8 on the UNTWO international tourist list). The country awards a generous number of scholarships and other support for foreign students to study in Germany. Of particular interest to music lovers is that most of the world's famous composers and musicians (Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Handel, Mozart) came from German-speaking countries, and Vienna, the capital of Austria, is known as the center of classical music around the world.

American Sign Language

Although not technically a foreign language, American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most used language in the U.S. "There are growing numbers of people who use sign language -- not only the deaf, but also individuals with special needs, such as Down Syndrome," says Louise Sattler, owner of Signing Families (signingfamilies.com). "ASL has deep roots within the deaf community and I believe that children should learn the language and the culture," Sattler says. Visual languages are sometimes easier to learn for kids, but it's important to make sure that ASL instruction reflects the true language and not made-up signs. Knowing ASL can be useful if a different means of communication is needed during a medical emergency or a disaster, especially since more than one million deaf and hearing people communicate through ASL.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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