Children Learning Foreign Languages

Children in a Primary School in Paris
In the recent past, the idea of children learning foreign languages was considered cute, even precocious, but certainly not necessary. Evolving with a 21st century worldview, the decided advantage of children speaking more than o­ne language becomes readily apparent in the increasingly multicultural and multilingual worlds of business and social networking that they will inherit.

At such a young age, children learning foreign languages tend to learn more quickly and fluently than adult learners. Speaking without an accent, their ease and comfort with their second language is akin to that of native speakers.

In fact, studies indicate that learning a second language increases brain “strength” in much the same manner as exercise builds muscles in the body. Proficient in a second language, children become far more adept with language acquisition in general, facilitating learning a third or fourth language.

Moreover, studies further indicate that children learning foreign languages prior to age ten experience an even greater positive effect o­n their brain development and language fluency. In view of these findings, many educators are now advocating for children learning foreign languages as young as possible, through various methods.

Immersion, for example, is o­ne method. Teaching all subjects in English and an additional language, o­n alternating days, some elementary school administrators are experimenting with immersing all their students in both languages, beginning at the pre-kindergarten level.

Indeed, in a variation o­n this method, other elementary schools have children learning foreign languages as teachers instruct them o­n basic classroom procedures — lining up, raising hands, sitting down — throughout the day. This effectively integrates foreign language into children’s daily routine.

Taking a more traditional route, other schools offer classes in foreign languages daily or weekly, while still other schools have children learning foreign languages before or after the usual school hours so as not to interfere with the regular curriculum.