Anyone who has tried to learn a new language as an adult knows how difficult it can be. So how do we prepare our children for the globalised world which they will grow up in? Research suggests that the best time to learn a new language is in childhood. This article will explain why this is the case and how you can make the most of the language learning potential of early childhood.
It is important to start as early as possible. At around the age of seven, children lose the ability to make completely new sounds. This means that after this point when they speak foreign languages they will have an accent, however slight. But, a child who began learning their second language at the age of three or four can speak like a native, a remarkable advantage. This is not limited to Western languages, if they started early enough a child could achieve native fluency in Chinese, Japanese or Arabic.
For an adult, this would entail a lot of hard work, but children do not think about languages in the same way. Children are constantly learning new things and at the age of four or five their native language has not become so entrenched that they cannot conceive of another. Learning languages can be fun for children, instead of singing songs and reading books in English they are simply given French books and taught French songs. Children are also wonderfully free of all the embarrassment that older people feel when they are speaking foreign languages, they are eager to try out what they have learned.
Parents often worry that teaching children a second or third language when they are still young will stunt their development in English. But this is simply not true. Not only does learning foreign languages not affect a child’s proficiency in English, it also improves their knowledge in other areas too. Studies have shown that multilingual children have better problem solving and analytical skills than their monolingual counterparts. Young children’s brains are like a sponge, they will soak up all the grammar rules and vocabulary that they are exposed to, before overexposure to English renders them inflexible.