Children Learn A Second Language Naturally
Exposing your child to a second language while young allows him or her to optimize his or her learning potential, helping to shape the brain at its most flexible stage. Young children are uniquely suited to learning a second language. Learning a second language at a young age is cognitively as easy as learning a first language.
In taking advantage of this window of opportunity, young learners enjoy a wide range of benefits:
Young language learners can acquire native-like fluency as easily as they learned to walk, in contrast to an adult language learner. Where adult learners have to work through an established first-language system, studying explicit grammar rules and practicing rote drills, the young learner learns naturally, absorbing the sounds, structures, intonation patterns and rules of a second language intuitively, as they did their mother tongue. The young brain is inherently flexible, uniquely hard-wired to acquire language naturally.
Older learners lose the ability to hear and reproduce new sounds by age 8-12, according to experts, resulting in a permanent foreign-sounding accent in any language. Younger learners benefit from flexible ear and speech muscles that can still hear the critical differences between the sounds of a second language, as well as reproduce them with native-like quality.
While some parents worry that starting their toddler on a second language will interfere with developing English skills, the opposite is actually true. Children can differentiate between two languages within the first weeks of life. “Learning another language actually enhances a child’s overall verbal development,” says Roberta Michnick Golinkoff Ph.D., author of How Babies Talk.
The research goes on to show a number of additional cognitive benefits to learning a second language at an early age. Children who study foreign language show higher cognitive performance in overall basic skills in elementary school. According to the College Entrance Examination Board, they go on to score higher on SATs. Children who learn a foreign language at a young age also exhibit better problem-solving skills, enhanced spatial relations, and heightened creativity. Learning a second language early on encourages flexible thinking and communication skills, helping children consider issues from more than one perspective.
Additionally, research shows that multilinguals have enhanced memory, planning, and multi-tasking skills. When learning multiple languages young, the brain is trained to attend to salient information and to disregard non-pertinent information, a skill that later supports better focus, memory, planning and multitasking abilities. Research shows that multilinguals use more of their brains than monolinguals and outperform monolinguals on creativity tests.