What is the ideal age for children to learn a foreign language?
Do you often dream of your child being welcomed to virtually any prestigious company all around the world after graduation? Do you see them traveling free and being able to negotiate like a local in every corner of the world? Do you aspire for them to acquire such a well-rounded cultivation after having been exposed to other cultures of the world?
Then, learning a second language, and then another one (and why not another… and another) is the best thing you can do in order to gift your child with a firm qualification for their entire lifetime. Especially, in a highly touristic country, such as Greece, in combination with the vast impact of the Internet on education, your child will very soon need to be able to handle, at least one second language, like a native.
Should a child start from the moment they can talk or after they have a good grasp of their native language?
Start at the age of 3!
Some years ago, this idea would be inconceivable to most. However, according to the latest studies, the creativity, critical thinking and flexibility of the mind, are enhanced at the very first years of a child’s life. Especially, in the first three years. Children have a natural ability to learn and this is developed in the first 3 to 4 years of life.
According to research, therefore, learning a second language is as easy as learning the first.
It may sound like a burden, but, in fact, it’s not.
Don’t forget that the human brain is a wonderful thing. From the moment we are born, we learn by six main ways, by:
Based on the information we gain in our first few years as children, 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.
It is true that bilingual children that learn a second language from an early age sound like a native in both later on.
Another study conducted by a director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory for language and child development at Dartmouth College (Hanover) has demonstrated that after the teen years, the brain changes and makes it extremely challenging (if possible at all) for an adult to learn a foreign language. This doesn’t mean that they can’t learn it; just that they won’t do so the same way as a child because the mechanisms that help language learning are not the same as they are at ages 2-5.
Another interesting fact is that children learn more easily a second language if they picked it up in their communities of families, rather than the classroom.
So, what can you do to help your child learn at such a young age? Do not hesitate to play songs in the foreign language, learn some everyday vocabulary with them, encourage them to watch comics in the foreign language as often as possible. At this early age, a class setting is not necessary for your child to start developing an energetic linguistic instinct.
Why learn at early adolescence (10-15 years old)?
It has been found that adolescents who learn a foreign language before they turn 15 have a better pronunciation of the second language, which is described as almost native-like. Again, though, the younger they start learning the second language, the more they develop a native-like accent.
On the other hand, children older than 15, as well as adults, are found to be better at learning a new language than younger children. This is because there are experiential and cognitive limitations in young children than adolescents and adults don’t have, which allows them to learn faster.
In conclusion, if you are interested in helping your children acquire this amazing gift of foreign languages, start as early on as possible, through games and music to ignite the linguistic reaction into the brain. When the child reaches his early adolescence, then it is time for firmer education with the aid of an experienced teacher who will set the course of foreign language learning.