Learning Language at an Early Age
“The brain is not biologically set to learn only one language.”
It may all be Greek to you, but another language may not be incomprehensible to your child. The brain is not biologically inclined toward one particular language—quite the opposite, in fact. Research has also shown that the reason language is instinctive is because it is, to a large extent, hard-wired in the brain. Learning language helps ‘wire’ the brain further, by connecting synapses in the brain. In other words, learning languages has strong influence on brain architecture.
From birth, children begin to develop their language skills when exposed to the sounds of speech. What is a natural process in our early years later becomes work for adults. As we grow, learning language becomes work, rather than fun or curiosity.
When children are in their early years, parents should concentrate on the development of language rather than teaching grammatical rules—simply speaking words in contextual sentences is enough. It is important these conversations with the child are age-appropriate and fun. And while we all want our children to wow Oxford admissions officers someday with the number of languages under their belt (or tongue), keep in mind that any more than four – while possible – can lead to confusion and mixing at this age.
As the child grows, the window of opportunity to balance multiple languages begins to narrow slowly. By five to six years of age, children still have a high faculty for learning multiple languages, but it becomes an effort, rather than unconscious absorption. The increased awareness those few extra years bring could also cause them to be self-conscious and tentative about pronunciation and grammar.
Ultimately, teaching your child a second (or third, or fourth) language while young is worth the effort on both sides. Language development and proficiency leads to better cognitive development, as described earlier. More specifically, it’s linked to reasoning and communication skills, creativity, logic, mathematical thinking, musical ability, and problem solving. Learning multiple languages can also help refine interpersonal skills, as well as give your child the ability to communicate with and learn from different communities and cultures.
When it comes to early language development:
- Do make languages a healthy, positive and fun experience
- Do gauge the child’s readiness to progress with learning a language
- Do keep the lessons age-appropriate
- Do keep the interactions long and rich in one particular language; switching frequently between languages can lead to confusion
- Do not pressure the child or set high expectations
- Do not correct the child frequently, as that can hamper motivation