Recent studies indicate that the best time for children to learn a foreign language is during their first three to four years of life. It is during this period that children develop a natural ability to learn. Scientists suggest that when it comes to ease of learning and proficiency in a foreign language, earlier is better. There is a “window of opportunity” for easily acquiring additional languages from the moment a child is born.
Research indicates that newborns are very receptive to the distinctive sounds of foreign languages. During the first six months of life, babies babble using 70 sounds that make up all the languages in the world. Research has proven that, during this early period, two languages can be learned simultaneously as long as the child regularly interacts with speakers of both languages. From there on, children learn to talk using only the sounds and words they pick up from their surroundings and from their parents and caregivers and discard the ability to speak in languages they do not hear.
The benefits of teaching a foreign language to children as early as infants are numerous.
Very young learners acquire a second language effortlessly, through hearing and experiencing lots of the target language, very much in the same way they acquire their mother tongue. Therefore, interaction is a critical part of this process.
During this period children learn through play. They learn words and phrases, without noticing it, in a fun and natural way.
Early language learning can (with enough exposure) help children make neural connections that will allow them to develop advanced listening and speaking proficiency in the foreign language. Many researchers sustain that those neural connections remain to some degree, even if they are no longer exposed to the target language for some time.
Children’s first learning experience in any kind of formal or informal environment can significantly shape their attitudes toward learning in general, and specifically towards learning a foreign language. Therefore, early language learning needs to be meaningful, natural and fun so speaking the target language becomes as natural as speaking the mother tongue.
Providing an early language exposure prepares children for success in their future. It enables them to form friendships worldwide. It opens their minds to more fully appreciate world literature and the arts. It opens doors to access greater career possibilities and enjoy much more traveling, but most important it simply gives them a different perspective and cross-cultural awareness.