The benefits of children learning a foreign language at a young age.
We all know there are numerous benefits to learning a second language as an adult, but what about the benefits of learning a foreign language as a child? In addition to being able to speak to people from other countries whether on vacation or helping a tourist at home, children who grow up in a dual-language household or who are enrolled in a bilingual school gain other benefits relating to academics, world view, empathy, and confidence.
So, just how young should children start to learn a second language?
“The earlier your child starts the better,” says Sharon Huang, Founder of HudsonWay Immersion School (HWIS). “There’s actually some very interesting research by Patricia Kuhl, author of The Scientist in the Crib, where she discusses the fact that babies as young as six months begin to tune out sounds that are not in their native language. This means that exposing a child as early as possible enables that child to pick up and replicate any language before their brain becomes specialized in only one language.”
While not all families are lucky enough to have one parent speak only in English and the other parent speak in a second language, there are ways you can introduce a second language to your young child, whether you hire a child care provider who speaks another language or you enroll your child in an immersive, bilingual school starting in preschool.
4 Reasons Your Child Should Learn a Second Language at a Young Age
It stretches your child’s brain.
Learning a second language exercises your child’s brain and increases her intelligence, says Patti Summers, director of early childhood education at HWIS. After all, your child has to keep the languages separate in her head. And once she has learned a second language, it’s easier to learn a third and fourth because she has the flexibility in the brain around learning languages (aka language proficiency), Huang says.
Plus, learning a foreign language in an immersion program, specifically, can enhance your child’s the ability to:
- enhance your child’s the ability to:
- solve problems
- analyze things from different points of view
- think outside the box
It boosts your child’s confidence.
Being able to have a conversation and interact with people from other countries can give your child self-confidence—especially if you have to rely on your child to translate when you’re on vacation or she’s helping a tourist in the area.
It expands your child’s world view.
Typically, when a child is learning a second language, he’s also learning about the culture and traditions of those who speak that target language. “Through the rich diversity of teachers, children are appreciating differences in role models” according to Huang. “In addition, students learn about the other countries by celebrating holidays, exploring history, listening to music, tasting foods, seeing art, and more”.
It promotes empathy.
Because children typically learn about the traditions of other countries when learning a foreign language, they develop a respect for those cultures, Summers says, “and it really does promote empathy.”
Huang cites a study that illustrates this perfectly. The participants (all children) were separated into three groups: a group of English-speaking, white children; a group of English-speaking, white children mixed with Hispanic children; and a group of English-speaking, white children learning to speak Spanish mixed with Hispanic children. “It was only when the white children were learning Spanish that they began to empathize and have different feelings about Hispanic children,” Huang says. “I think that experiment and the results from it are very powerful in explaining why learning language is so important for children. It changes how they view another race.”
“I know I sound like a broken record, but what’s more important than gaining the knowledge of and a deep respect for other people’s cultures?” Summers asks.
HudsonWay Immersion School, founded 15 years ago, is the first private Mandarin and Spanish immersion day school in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. HWIS is an academically rigorous, full-immersion Mandarin and Spanish preschool, elementary, and middle school serving children ages 2 through eighth grade located on two campuses: Stirling, NJ and Midtown West, Manhattan.
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