“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way”
Did you know that all babies are born with an innate ability to mimic the sounds of any language? But by the time they reach 10 months, they begin to narrow down the range of sounds to only those that they hear on a daily basis. So, if you want your child to learn another language, it’s best to introduce it in the first year of its life.
Why should children learn another language? For starters, it’s easier than trying to learn later because the language centre of the brain is still developing. It also helps stimulate a child’s curiosity and makes them more receptive to learning in other areas. It can also help boost cognitive development, which helps overall academic progress. Let’s also not forget the importance of connecting with other cultures, enhancing future career opportunities and helping to prevent age related mental illnesses like dementia.
As a Montessori teacher, I see daily evidence of the importance of language in early childhood development from as young as 2 years. I witness firsthand how easily and avidly young children acquire language and build new vocabulary in their mother tongue, so it makes perfect sense to also introduce a second language at this time.
Parents often wrongly assume a child can’t learn two languages at once and think it’s better to wait until they are fluent in their first language before introducing a second. The critical period or ‘window of opportunity’ when children learn another language best is between the ages of birth to 6 years. After that time the ability diminishes and it gets progressively harder the older they get. Dr Maria Montessori said the reason why older children and adults have difficulty learning a second language is because they are no longer in that sensitive period for language acquisition.
This of course also means that your child has a great aptitude for learning to speak and understand a second language (far better than you!) So what can you do to help them achieve it? Whilst bilingual parents have the advantage of being able to teach their children themselves, they often don’t have the time or skills to do so properly and what about all those parents who don’t speak another language?
There are lots of things parents can do to help their children achieve their language goals:-
- Buy bilingual story books (www.littlelinguist.co.uk) stocks a wide range of titles for all ages, many of which are bilingual so you can learn together.
- Play music CDs in the car or at home – check out Amazon or Little Linguist – and have a singalong. You’ll be surprised at how quickly children master a second language through singing songs.
- Download a language app. There are lots of really good ones out there, which include games, songs and other fun activities. We particularly like Gus on the Go for 2-6 year olds and is available in 14 different languages. For older children check out Duolingo.
- Use flashcards to practise vocabulary – you could stick them around the house and make a game of saying them on a daily basis.
- Counting in the new language – count the stairs up to bed, the number of times you brush your teeth, the number of peas on your plate etc. Children love counting and will love showing off how high they can count.
- Introduce some key words into your everyday routine. Simple words such as saying Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank you will get you started.
- And finally – come to one of our classes!
Our carefully designed programme of French classes has three levels: Babies and toddlers, Little Learners (pre-schoolers) and Active Learners (aged 5-10 years). To find out more go to www.thelittlelanguageacademy.co.uk.
The Little Language Academy runs weekly classes during term time in Gerrards Cross for all ages, plus in a number of local nurseries, pre-schools and schools. It’s also possible to book a mobile class in your own home with a group of friends.