Should my child start to learn another language from an early age?

The ability to learn a language is natural and almost instinctive up to the age of eight. Therefore, the best way for children to grow up bilingual is to introduce them to the two languages in his daily life from birth.

From birth to the age of eight, children's brains are at their most plastic. This is the best time to teach children more than one language so they can adopt both as their own. When they are very young they barely have to make an effort to learn two languages at the same time. If you speak two different languages at home, the child will assimilate them instinctively.

If parents decide to raise their children as bilingual it's best to start as soon as possible. Babies' brains are born with millions of cells that control the ability to speak. As the child hears a language, the cells connect naturally and easily to shape his ability to speak it. By the age of 10, these cells are perfectly engaged with one another, concluding one of the most important stages of human development. From this age, the ability to learn a language is no longer intuitive. However, languages can still be learnt with a lot of time and effort. Therefore, it's best to make use of the ability that children are born with and introduce them to more than one language before this ability is consolidated (between the ages of 8 and 10).

There are two options for encouraging bilingualism in children. 1. Each parent can speak to the child in a different language (this usually occurs in marriages of people of different nationalities or when the parents are also bilingual). 2. Send the child to a kindergarten or school that has a bilingual education program.

Advantages

Encouraging bilingualism from an early age has great advantages:

  • Learning two languages simultaneously increases the attention span and helps a child switch between tasks quicker and more effectively.
  • Bilingual children find learning a third language easier.
  • Access to two different cultures enriches a child's education and promotes a greater understanding of cultural diversity.
  • Looking to the future, the ability to speak more than one language provides greater employment opportunities.

Promoting bilingualism at home

According to experts, the best way for a child to learn more than one language is for each parent to speak a different language to the child from birth. This is because numerous linguistic stimuli are needed to reach native-level proficiency in a language.

If you don't have the option of each parent speaking a different language at home, you will need to send your child to an educational facility that has a bilingual program. However, if this is not an option either, there is the option of bilingual schools or native-speaking carers. There are also a number of things you can do at home outside of class hours:

  • Give your child books or stories in the two languages he is learning.
  • Another good option are films in the original language or series or cartoons broadcast in other languages. The same applies to music. You can play your child songs or encourage him to sing in all the languages he is learning.
  • Babysitters who speak the language you want your child to learn are a great resource, preferably if they are native speakers. They can play games with your child or simply hold conversations.
  • When your child is older, you can send him abroad to take an immersion course.

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