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Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language?

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Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language?
By: Kathleen Marcos of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
Brought to you by Lango-Foreign Languages for Kids.

Much media attention has recently been focused on the importance of early learning experiences on brain development. Newsweek devoted a special edition to the critical first 3 years of a child's life and indicated that there is a "window of opportunity" for second language learning starting at 1 year of age. A February 1997 article in Time magazine suggested that foreign languages should be taught to children as early as possible. With so many demands already placed on children, parents might ask: Is it important that my child learns a second language at a young age? Why?

What Are the Benefits of Knowing a Second Language?

In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children may derive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills. Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive advantage in the workforce by opening up additional job opportunities. Students of foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged 4 or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied 4 or more years in any other subject area. In addition, the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken 4 or more years of foreign language study was identical to the average score of those who had studied 4 years of mathematics. These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous years. Students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures. Some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems. The benefits to society are many. Americans fluent in other languages enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication, and maintain our political and security interests.

Why Is It Better for My Child To Learn a Language Before Middle School?

Studies have shown -- and experience has supported -- that children who learn a language before the onset of adolescence are much more likely to have native-like pronunciation. A number of experts attribute this proficiency to physiological changes that occur in the maturing brain as a child enters puberty. Of course, as with any subject, the more years a child can devote to learning a language, the more competent he or she will become. Regardless, introducing children to alternative ways of expressing themselves and to different cultures generally broadens their outlook and gives them the opportunity to communicate with many more people.

Will a Second Language Interfere With My Child's English Ability?

In most cases, learning another language enhances a child's English ability. Children can learn much about English by learning the structure of other languages. Common vocabulary also helps children learn the meaning of new words in English. Experimental studies have shown that no long-term delay in native English language development occurs in children participating in second language classes, even in full immersion programs. When children start learning languages at birth, they have the capacity to learn many languages at once without getting confused? because, as the brain develops, so too does the ability to separate one language from another.

In fact, children enrolled in foreign language programs score statistically higher on standardized tests conducted in English. A number of reports have demonstrated that children who have learned a second language earn higher SAT scores, particularly on the verbal section of the test. One study showed that by the fifth year of an immersion program, students outperformed all comparison groups and remained high academic achievers throughout their schooling.

If My Child Is Enrolled in a Language Program, What Can I Do To Help?

Most importantly, encourage your child's interest in the language and in other cultures. Show him or her that you value the ability to speak a second language. Attend cultural events that feature music, dance, or food from the country or countries where the language is spoken. If possible, provide some books, videos, or other materials in the second language. If you are familiar with the language yourself, read to your child.

This article is brought to you by: Lango-Foreign Languages for Kids. At Lango we believe every American child can and should learn a second language. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Lango teaches children ages 1-12 new languages in full immersion classes through culturally based music, art, games, stories and movement. Camps are available full or half time in the summer, spring and winter. Dates, time, duration and age range may vary, depending on location.

Contact us today for a free trial class!

 

   

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