The ability to speak a second language is something that many adults wish they’d acquired in their younger days, when their brains were more willing to absorb new information. Research shows that children are most able to pick up a second language at a young age, when their brains are specifically geared toward making sense of the world through language.
Learning at home
Children who are exposed to a second language at home naturally become bilingual. While this is now encouraged, it wasn’t always so. In the 1970s, it was assumed that children exposed to more than one language became confused and were delayed developmentally.
Learning at school
While learning a second language is something many associate with their teenage years, current research suggests that the earlier children are exposed to a second language, the better. In 2012 a report from the UK Government found that high-performing European schools began teaching a second language much earlier than UK state schools.
This led to a decision that subjects such as French, Mandarin, German, Spanish or Greek would become a compulsory part of the primary school timetable. Languages will form a part of the National Curriculum from age seven primary in 2014. Parents who would like their children to begin learning even earlier can arrange for them to be taught by specialist providers such as ESL-Schools.org.
Methods of acquisition
Children either learn a second language simultaneously or sequentially. Simultaneous learners would include children under three who are exposed to two languages at the same time example, by having parents who are native speakers of different languages.
Before reaching six months of age, children learn both languages at a similar rate. They do not become confused as previously thought because their brains build separate language systems for each of the languages.
Children who learn a language sequentially become familiar with one language, but are then also exposed to another. This is the typical experience for children in schools. An extreme example would be an English-speaking child entering a German school in Berlin. Sequential learning is influenced by the learner’s motivation and temperament.
The benefits of bilingualism are obvious. Less commonly known is that learning a second language improves children’s abilities in their first language. Evidence shows that children may be better able to learn a foreign language if they are given the opportunity at a younger age. Current research on native English speakers suggests that the process of being taught a foreign language helps children improve their conversation skills and literacy in English.
This post has been kindly sponsored by ESL-Schools.org.