Most of us live in very diverse communities, surrounded by people who speak a language other than English, whose homes emanate lovely aromas of their ethnic foods and whose families practice different traditions. We live in a very global economy where knowing a second language is no longer a luxury. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), it is easier for young learners (usually in elementary school) to fully learn a new language than it is to teach older kids and teens (like high schoolers), and knowing a second or even third language can greatly benefit their lives and job opportunities in the future.
What better gift can we give our own children than the gift of second language instruction? Providing this learning in the first 5-10 years of life not only makes it easier for the child to be wired for all future language learning; it also opens up their heart and mind to accepting those who look, speak, and even act differently than their immediate circle of family and friends.
Why is it important?
According to Beth Butler, an expert in teaching Spanish, recent research suggests that many benefits are derived from learning more than one language early in life. A majority of children in various bilingual learning studies demonstrated enhanced cognitive development (what some refer to as a boost in brain power), increased problem solving abilities, a richer cultural awareness, higher standardized test scores in both math and verbal sections, a keen ability to block out potential outside interferences, and these children read sooner than their monolingual peers.
You might be thinking as you read this, “No way! I want my child to concentrate on learning English before he gets all confused with Spanish.” The myth that exists about children learning two languages can become language delayed and/or confused is just that – a myth. Children are hard-wired from birth through about ten years old to learn several languages. Young children will learn the new language more quickly, retain it better, and speak it with native or near-native pronunciation. In fact, Newsweek and Time both ran feature articles suggesting that second language instruction should be begin as early as possible in a child’s life, and these major publications stated that the “window of opportunity” to introduce a child to a second and third language is between birth and age ten.
How to bring in a new language
Many parents deliberate over how to bring a new language into their child’s life – particularly when they as the adults speak only one language. Many experts agree that the bilingual approach for the very young child is best. Teach the new language alongside the native language. It’s as easy as pointing to a cat and saying “cat” then “gato.” Linguistic experts agree that it’s just as easy to teach a baby two words for one item as it is to teach only one word.
This bilingual method provides continuing education in the child’s native tongue while acquiring skills in the new one. Language experts agree the strong sense of pride, higher self-esteem, and long term retention associated with this bilingual approach is reason enough to choose this route for the younger years. According to many experts immersion programs, where the child will hear only the targeted new language, should be reserved for those in middle school years and beyond.
You can find excellent DVDs and programs to help teach another language. Some of my favorites include Little Passports, which sends monthly packages to your child to help them learn other languages, Little Pim, which gives your child exciting activities that they can do on any computer, tablet or mobile device, and Early Lingo which teaches children through DVDs.
Practice makes perfect
Aside from using educational programming on television to help your child practice, the ACTFL suggests that parents should get involved in the learning process and try to engage children in speaking in multiple languages. It may also help you as a parent to learn a new language with your child. It is also important to practice reading in the language that your child is learning to speak so that they are used to seeing the words and translating them in their heads.
You can also visit one of your local Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Family Resource Centers to connect with other kids and families learning a new language and to practice together.
Our world is increasingly bilingual, and we need to prepare our children for it. Students of second language instruction have access to a greater number of career opportunities later in life, are wired to learn multiple languages, and tend to be more creative than monolingual students. The benefits of second language instruction have been proven, and it’s time to begin the instruction now – when the child is young, when the language acquisition part of the brain is more accepting and while the child is excited about new languages, new cultures and new people.
For schools and learning facilities to help your kids learn new languages, visit:
You can also find a list of schools with Spanish language experts here.
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