French Twist: Fun Ways for Kids to Learn Foreign Languages

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Educational wisdom holds that the best age for a child to learn a new language is between 0 and 5 years old. Unfortunately, at that point, they’re not exactly up for reading Dostoevsky in the original Russian or sitting through a French art film. Not to mention, that paging through a book or watching a video is no substitute for interacting with a real life person when it comes to learning second – or third or fourth – language. Lucky city kids can learn foreign languages through classes and playgroups and many other unique venues. Check out some of Red Tricycle’s favorites below.


Dance your way to fluency with Ballet Hispanico’s Hablando y Bailando (167 West 89th Street) program for 4 and 5 year olds. Not only will they learn to bounce, flounce and ole(!) with the best of them, but also instruction will be given in Spanish (as well as English) for a truly immersive, diverse experience. Later, kids can learn partnering, the traditional salsa, merengue and cha cha cha as part of Cultural Latin Dance, too.

Your kiddos may not be able to read books on their own, but odds are they’d love a boisterous storytime with a French twist! Starting in June, Book Culture’s (2915 Broadway at 114th Street) weekly French story-time is back on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 4:00 pm. There’s also Spanish (Friday at 3:30 pm) and German (Thursday at 4:30 pm) story-time, too.

Seems like every adult ever subjected to attending Hebrew School has a horror story about how boring and uninspiring it was. The Jewish Journey Project is aiming to change that with a non-synagogue based Hebrew School where families can pick their educational activities. By customizing their own experience via a variety of courses, kids can pick where and when they’ll learn language, Torah, holidays, animation, architecture and even yoga, all on their way to Judaic fluency.

Just like during the Renaissance, children at Centro Raccontami’s Italian Art Lab (100 West 14th Street) will get up close and personal with real life Italian artists as they learn new techniques and explore their individual creativity in a group setting. There’s also a more traditional Mom (note: not Mommy) & Me program, as well as musical activities, games, crafts, cooking, children’s literature, readings and role-playing workshops, all in Italian!

Wonton Group Class

You’ve heard of hands-on learning, well, how about tongue on learning? AKA cooking in a foreign language. After all, what better way to learn a new language than to really take a bite out of it? At Planet Han (401 West End Ave Lower Level), kids ages three and up can learn Chinese vocabulary and pick up basic etiquette, nutrition and kitchen safety while preparing and feasting on traditional dishes alongside Mandarin-speaking teachers as part of Han Chefs. Also available: Han Movement for two year olds, and Han Science for ages five and up.

Irish isn’t just a culture and/or an excuse for a green-themed (and alcohol-fueled) holiday; it’s also a language. Kiddos ages 3 to 12 can get in touch with their heritage – and learn that, no, the Lucky Charms guy is not an adequate representative, at the Irish Arts Center’s (553 West 51 Street) Gaelic Kids class held on Saturdays at 12:30 pm. Drop ins are welcome. Also available to ratchet up the fun: Introductory Step Dance and Celtic Harp for Kids!

Sign Language
And don’t forget the best language of all – the one your little guy can’t use to scream at you! (And yes, yes, it’s great for cognitive development and early communication, not to mention bonding; also, it’s quiet). MyBabyFingers offers classes for pre-walking infants and their care-givers up to preschoolers in a variety of Manhattan and Brooklyn locations, using familiar nursery rhymes and other classics you sing to your baby anyway. So you might as well throw in another language while you’re at it, right?


Learning Russian is even more fun when you do it while wearing a headdress nearly twice your size, playing an accordion and performing music of the Old Country. The Golden Rooster is a children’s ensemble that performs traditional Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian and Gypsy folk songs. They’ve got a YouTube channel, and they’re always accepting new members of various ages.

Wish your kids would learn some manners along with their language lesson? Showing respect for elders, getting along with peers and mastering basics like toilet training and getting dressed by yourself are key components of New York City Nihongo de Asobou (315 East 5th Street). Their Japanese immersion day-care program also offers puppet play, culturally relevant crafts, and introduces science through nature. Their all-Japanese playgroup even boasts walk-in Drop Off for registered members!

What is your kid’s preferred method of language learning?

–Alina Adams

Photos by Alina Adams, Planet Han and The Golden Rooster