Hola, Bonjour, Guten Tag, Здравствуйте, नमस्कार, and 你好!
The world is just full of languages for your child to explore — some useful for a successful career abroad, some simply for the love of the culture, and others just because they sound silly!
As a parent, encouraging your little one to learn a second language during his or her early years — it’s one of the best ways to expand their horizons. Your kiddo will grow up with an open-mind — connecting with other cultures and celebrating diversity.
When I learned about just how few American kids learn a second language, I was a little taken-back! A Pew Research Center study estimates only 20% of U.S. children study a foreign language at all — compared to 92% in Europe. After surveying the world’s bilingual population — meaning the ability to use two languages to some degree of fluency — other sources [1, 2] claim 23% of the total U.S. population is bilingual, compared to 43% of people around the world.
As a language learner myself, I thought I’d put in my own two cents by helping parents navigate the world of wooden language learning toys a little easier. So here we are!
Good news! Unless your little one is learning a language as rare as ancient Vedic Sanskrit, there’s bound to be foreign-language wooden toy right for you.
Without further adieu (French word!), here’s my hand-picked collection of the best foreign language wooden toys that make learning a second language as fun as could be!
Say “hasta la vista” to English alphabet blocks for a moment. From here on out, it’s non-English toys only!
Affiliate Link Disclosure – If you see a product you like and click through to buy it, I would genuinely appreciate it. I may earn a small commission — at no extra cost to you. It would mean a lot, thanks!
Uncle Goose Foreign Language Blocks
Hands-down — Uncle Goose is the best-of-the-best when it comes to hands-on language learning wooden toys. True masters of modern block play toys, their line of second-language alphabet blocks are second to none. Here’s why!
- Gorgeous contemporary design. Child-friendly in design, these blocks are absolutely beautiful. Lots of people even buy them as decorations for their office or home.
- Culturally relevant. They didn’t just take plain wooden blocks and slap a foreign alphabet onto them. Each set of language blocks are thoughtfully adorned with designs that reflect the culture behind the language.
- Wide variety of popular study languages. With 20+ of the world’s most-spoken languages of the world all available from a single toy brand, you know you’re buying from true global citizens.
- Made-In-USA. The global supply chain is complicated. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan (my home state), Uncle Goose blocks are hand-manufactured in Michigan with local American-sourced wood. Global outlook with local manufacturing? That’s a business model I can stand behind.
Western-European Language Blocks
Central-European Language Blocks
Southern-European Language Blocks
Northern-European Language Blocks
Eastern-European Language Blocks
Central-Asian & Middle-Eastern Language Blocks
Lesser-Known Language Blocks
Begin Again Bilingual Wooden Puzzles
Well-known for their colorful, chunky, and inventive kids’ wooden puzzles, the Begin Again brand’s line of Spanish-English bilingual puzzles live up to their name — with a unique take on language learning.
Where alphabet blocks come as classic, Begin Again’s adorable wooden play puzzles offer exciting figures, bold colors, and super-cute characters — the kind of learning toys that are so fun, your kiddo won’t even realize he or she is learning.
Klik Klak Blocks Foreign Alphabet Wooden Blocks
If you appreciate the natural beauty of wood grains, then Klik Klak Blocks’ unpainted alphabet language blocks are a lesser-known alternative to Uncle Goose’s colorful style.
They’re available in a wide range of hard-to-find languages (as far as toy blocks go), mostly Eastern-European and Middle-Eastern. Expect the same level of language learning opportunity in a simple-as-could-be wooden block form — with the alphabet masterfully engraved into the surface.
In the spirit of the ABCs, I’ll list Klik Klak Blocks’ available languages for you in alphabetical order:
Wooden Toys for Learning Foreign Languages
We’ve already covered the three best brands with language-focused collections of wooden toys. But sit tight, we’re not done yet!
Beyond blocks and puzzles, there’s a wide range of lesser-known language-focused wooden toys that you should know about!
Multilingual Wooden Toys
Bilingual Animal Silhouettes Wooden Matching Game by Montessori Multi
(Custom-made with two languages you choose!) – Just like the Begin Again toys we looked at before, these Montessori-inspired wooden cards help build your little one’s second-language vocabulary, reading, spelling, and much more. At home or in the classroom — animal shape recognition, logic skills, and concentration are all areas this hands-on toy touches upon.
Four-Language Alphabet Wooden Puzzle by Petit-Collage
(English, French, Italian, and German) – With its soft complementary color scheme, this alphabet puzzle board is easy on the eyes. You’ll immediately recognize the alphabet to be English, but that’s just your native language playing tricks on you. It’s actually the Latin alphabet — used by most languages of European origin. With this “play on letters” Petit-Collage made a multilingual toy featuring cute icon illustrations that correspond to four languages’ alphabet. Excellent for young polyglots aged three and up.
Wooden Toys For Learning Spanish
Bilingual Wooden Salad Playset (Spanish-English) by Wordy – Fostering healthy eating habits with a bilingual twist. This “ensalada” has large-print labels for each veggie and utensil in the vegetable wooden salad toy set.
Bilingual Sea Animals Wooden Puzzle Set by (Spanish-English) Wordy – A 6-Piece set of toddler-friendly wooden puzzles in the shape of sea creatures as cute as could be. The English word and Spanish word are written on opposite sides, emulating a flashcard for early childhood foreign language learning.
Wooden Toys For Learning Chinese
Chinese Vocabulary Wooden Dominoes (Chinese) by Guaishou – If Simplified Mandarin Chinese is the target language, the pictures on these blocks are an excellent visual aid — making the complicated characters easier to learn.
Bilingual Chinese Color & Number Wooden Blocks (Chiense-English) by Machi – Designed by a group of first-generation Chinese-Americans, not only are these blocks tastefully designed — but get this! You can use a free specialized app to enhance your kid’s learning experience. How cool is that!? The video below will show you how it works.
Wooden Toys for Teaching Cultural Diversity
Language and culture are inherently tied together. So when your little one is learning a new language, it’s a perfect time to broaden his or her cultural awareness.
If everyone looked and acted the same, then the world would be a very boring place! By helping our children develop curiosity about cultural differences, we’ll be setting up the world for a brighter future. A world where different people’s perspectives, lifestyles, and outward appearances are celebrated, instead of shunned.
Teaching your child world languages plants the seeds for him or her to grow up into a global citizen. By adding in some activities about cultural diversity, you’ll take that global mindset one step further. After all, language learning is all about communication and understanding between people from different walks of life, isn’t it!?
“Homes Around The World” Building-Shaped Wooden Blocks by Kaplan – This 15-piece set of adorable two-sided wooden building toys features family dwellings from every corner of the earth.
Diverse Skin-Tone Peg Dolls Set by My Big World Playscapes – A 36-piece peg doll set of 12 families from unique ethnic backgrounds. This multi-racial toy presents an important life lesson — loving family is one thing all cultures have in common.
Multicultural Professionals Wooden Character Set by Imagination Generation – A 15-piece set of professional-looking people wooden figurines — gender-neutral and in a variety of ethnicities, this toy helps kids learn that anyone can achieve anything they put their minds to.
World Flag Sneakers Wooden Montessori Activity by Papaslon – I’m not sure exactly why this toymaker decided to make world flags into wooden sneaker pieces — but if the shoe fits, wear it! The set includes fourteen different countries, so your little one can get to know the colors and shapes of other countries’ national flags.
Appropriate Age for Children’s Language Toys?
What’s the right time for your child to start learning a second language (or third, or fourth)? The quick answer is — as early as possible!
One study at the University of Washington suggests the best age to start learning a second language is between birth and 3 years of age — even better when a baby is immersed in a bilingual household.
Another study at MIT study shows that kids learn foreign languages more fluently before the age of ten — and that young peoples’ ability for language acquisition drastically diminishes after the age of seventeen or eighteen.
“If you want to have native-like knowledge of [a second language’s] grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that.”
— Joshua Hartshorne, assistant professor of psychology at Boston College
Toy blocks for learning a second language — they’re still a toy, so the typical age recommendations apply. Most toy building blocks are appropriate for ages three and up. With adult supervision, blocks are a good toy for babies, too.
To teach your little one a new language, having an adult to speak, reading, and play with the language blocks together — it creates an immersive language learning experience for your little one.
Even if you’ve never studied a day in your life, foreign language blocks present a fun and educational opportunity for parents to get involved with their child’s language learning.
Best occasions for Language-Learning blocks?
Whether you’re considering a foreign language for your child, thinking about a meaningful gift for a friend, or shopping for yourself — sometimes foreign language building blocks are perfect for the occasion. Here are some ideas!
- Celebrate family heritage. Maybe you and your significant other come from different cultural backgrounds. Maybe you’re trying to reconnect with your family’s lineage and roots. Language-learning blocks are an excellent way to teach your little one the value of diversity and heritage.
- Language classes or bilingual education. For those fortunate enough to afford language classes or international school, language learning blocks support the curriculum at home. Language classes can be pricey, however, so language blocks are an excellent alternative. They’re even a good way to see how your child responds to language-learning before you go-all-in on costly tuition.
- Before you travel. Whether you’re planning a long-awaited international family vacation or just some grocery shopping errands at the Asian market, by learning a language with your child you’ll have a much more culturally relevant travel experience while you’re out and about.
- At-home cultural experiences. There’s a reason why bilingual TV shows like Dora the Explorer are so popular. As an alternative to (or perhaps in addition to) language classes, why not cook up some in-home cultural experiences from the convenience of your own home. Make a Sunday out of it — order some foreign cuisine takeout, cue up some foreign cartoons on YouTube, and spend an afternoon exploring a new foreign culture.
Over to you!
There you have it — a world-class round-up of the world’s best wooden foreign-language toys to give your little one a leg-up on language-learning.
I’d love to hear what you think!
What’s your favorite kind of wooden toy for learning a second language?
Do you have any tips on how to get toddlers and young children excited about another language and culture?
Until next time… Adiós, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, Прощай, अलविदा, and 再见!