As a parent, I think we all hope that our children have access to ideas and perspectives from another language. Who is not proud when our child can effortlessly switch between different languages. Like on an overseas trip, she can confidently communicate with people like a local. And of course, how happy we are to know that by knowing a foreign language, our child can reach to new skies, gain more knowledge and have more advantages in their career path.
Yes, everyone dreams, but not everyone can make it real. When it comes to teaching another language to a young child, most of us usually think of the question: “when is the best time for a kid to learn a foreign language?”. Should we start to teach her as soon as she can talk, or should we hold off until she has mastered her mother language?
What researchers say
Erika Levy, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Teachers College, Columbia University says: “The best time for a kid to learn a foreign language is before the one-year mark. After the first year or so, it becomes much more difficult for them to ‘hear’ the many vowels, and consonants that don’t exist in the language(s), they are surrounded by (i.e., in a non-native language)”.
Other researchers claim that second language acquisition skills peak at or before the age of 6 or 7. Other aspects of language (vocabulary, grammar, etc.) also progress best early, probably by puberty for most people.
Although there are some distances between ages, all researchers agree that the earlier a child starts learning a foreign language, the better, she can master it.
Why should start at the age of 0-3 ?
Some people may think that this is entirely impossible. It’s simply because, at the age of 3, a child can not even speak her mother language fluently, how she can learn a second language.
But research findings will surprise you. The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences reports: “Studies suggest that optimal learning is achieved when children start learning two languages at an early age (i.e., between birth and 3 years of age), through high-quality interactions with live human beings, and a child will continuously develop both languages throughout toddler, preschool, and school years.”
The first three years of life are a vital period in a child’s life. During this time, the foundation for the development of senses, thinking, attitudes, and learning, are laid down. As a new member of this world, learning seems to be a natural and essential task for every young child. Learning a second language is like two different things happening simultaneously.
With a “ pure –brain”, a child is not able to distinguish between the mother tongue and a foreign language. She will just listen, absorb, and interact in the same ways with both languages. So in this way, learning a second language for a young child is as easy as the first one.
What if a second language comes to replace the first language?
In this case, a child has not developed the first language properly, and she has opportunities to spend more time using the second language. This is definitely not good and should be avoided.
Despite the fact that “ Children can benefit in many other ways from learning a second language” – reports by the University of Harvard. The second language coming to replace the first language might bring more problems than benefits. Let’s imagine what if your child tends to use a second language more than her native one. Whenever you ask her something, her responses are always in the other language. And she does not want to communicate with others who don’t speak the language that she would like to use. I’m sure this is not something you’d want to happen to your child.
So in order to help your child to learn a second language, you should be careful of balancing the time that she will spend on both languages.
Tips to introduce your child to a foreign language
The most effective way to help your child master a language is to surround or immerse him in that language. This could be through daily conversations between you and her. Or if you don’t know the language, let’s take her to join a group of friends where kids are playing and talking with each other in that language. Provide your child fun and interactive learning environments, music, film, storytelling in multiple languages. Find ways to keep a positive and secure emotional environment to motivate your child’s learning.