Best time for child to learn second language

Do you dream of your son speaking 4 different languages?

If that’s what you’re into, when should you start encouraging them to start learning a different language? Is it as soon as they can talk, or should you hold off until they have mastered their mother tongue?  Let’s find out what works:

Well, all researchers agree that the earlier a child starts learning a second language, the better, for more reasons than one. Some researchers say that second language acquisition skills peak at or before the age of 6 or 7. Others claim that this window extends through puberty. But, they all agree that it’s much harder for a child beyond puberty to learn a new language.

Below, you will find all prevailing viewpoints and their backup arguments for your reference as a means to help you make the most informed decision possible.

Why start at the age of 3 or 4?

If you asked that question some years ago, everybody would look at you as if you were an alien. It was inconceivable for children as young as three years of age to be able to learn a second language, given that they have not yet mastered their mother tongue. Nowadays, though, research findings indicate something totally different.

Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age. Preschool years, especially the first three years of life, are believed to be a vital period in a child’s life. This is when the foundations for attitudes, thinking, and learning, among others, are laid down.

“This means that children have a natural ability to learn, which is developed during the first 3-4 years of their life.”

Using that ability is much encouraged because, always according to research, learning a second language is as easy as learning the first. It may sound like a huge burden, but, in fact, it’s not.

The human brain is a wonderful thing. From the moment we are born, we learn by six main ways, by:

  • Sight
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Doing.

Based on the information we gain in our first few years, everything we have learned grows later in life. Research has shown that 50% of our ability to learn is developed by age 4 and another 30% by age 8. This is why three-year-olds are encouraged to learn a second language.

However, this doesn’t mean that 80% of one’s knowledge or intelligence is formed until they are 8 years old. It simply means that children develop their main learning pathways during their first few years of life.

A teacher at Moreton First Prep School says that 3-year olds who attend the preschool class enhance their spoken English through play and songs. They learn French at the same time, through similar fun activities, music, and stories. So, it’s not uncommon to hear little ones singing French songs at that school.

But that’s not all. These children are exposed to a third language: Mandarin Chinese, which they also become familiar with quite effortlessly through games and props. And, on top of everything else, they also get to play while having a Spanish teacher watching over and interacting with them!

Incredible as it may sound, learning is indeed achieved, and children don’t even realize they are learning not one but three foreign languages! Why? Because studies have shown that the younger the learner, the more they can adopt pronunciations and recreate new sounds. And, children around the age of three or four can learn through play because their minds aren’t yet overwhelmed by facts and information that needs to be stored and assessed, which is something that happens as we grow older.

 “Bilingual children that learn a second language from an early age sound like a native in both.”

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