Early Language Learning
The Earlier the Better
We are all aware of the incredible learning potential of children, particularly during the first five years.
Scientists suggest that when it comes to ease of learning and proficiency in a foreign language, earlier is better.
Research has clearly shown that a child’s brain is capable of learning several languages at once, and the earlier the better. When children learn a second language before the developmental window closes, it gives them the opportunity to naturally acquire native like pronunciation, it enhances their native language abilities, it increases their creativity, it enriches their mental development, it enhances their verbal and mathematical problem solving skills, and it provides a positive effect on their intellectual growth.
These skills contribute profoundly to a child’s self-esteem and his or her sense of values. They prepare the child for life in the multi-cultural, multi-lingual world of the 21st century.
Researchers agree that introducing children to any language as early as possible provides benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
- Pronunciation is more like that of a native speaker when language exposure begins early. Some experts believe this is due in part to physiological changes at puberty; by age 15, children’s facial muscles and bones are nearly mature, and their musculature loses sensitivity to phonetic distinctions that are not relevant to the languages they speak. It is simply harder for older students to make new, unfamiliar sounds. A psychological factor may also be at work: Older children are more inhibited in trying out new sounds and more concerned about making mistakes.
- Acquiring a language is effortless for young children. Getting them into a foreign language class early allows easy, natural absorption of the target language through play and exploration. Starting a foreign language later in life is not effortless and it may become a struggle.
- Research has shown that learning a second language enhances intellectual development and improves overall school performance in addition to enabling communication with people from other countries and cultures. Some studies suggest that children who study a foreign language tend to score higher on standardized tests. They are able to perform better in math and logic skills than children with just one language. There is also some evidence that foreign language students are more creative and better at solving complex problems.
- Likewise, students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of their own and other cultures.
Learning is easier if it is fun and to make it fun we need to provide children with a playful environment. The more fun the environment, the more a child will want to stay with it.
We know children learn in a variety of ways but we all recognize that play is an important vehicle in the process.
Children learn a second language in a natural way, through play, songs, rhymes, movement, exploration, creativity, games, story books and fun activities in an environment that is playful.
When exposing children to a new language use the language at all times paired with games. Invite them to play grocery store, make a snack or pretend to be an astronaut. Let them learn by doing.
Use props, pictures and sounds to reinforce the new language in a playful way.
Use music and rhythm. Music is one way to use the whole brain. The songs, nursery rhymes and finger plays they learn in their childhood will always be remembered.
Encourage children to dance and move to different rhythms. Movement activities such as dancing, bouncing, and jumping keep children engaged, and help them broaden their understanding of the new language and its culture.
Let them use all their senses to absorb the language. By expressing with new words how things feel after touching them. By tasting and eating foods and saying the food name in the new language. By smelling hidden objects in a bag, and guessing what is inside.
You can turn everything that is out there into a learning experience. Encourage children to use the new language while counting oranges; comparing leaves; classifying different animals, food, or anything that interests them.
Let them pretend to be different characters. Encourage them to act out and role play to strengthen their imagination, expression and creativity.