Children and foreign languages

Learning a second (or third, or fourth!) language is a wonderful idea at any age, but it’s particularly good for young children. Not only is learning a language easier when you’re young, and but it also has developmental benefits for growing tots.

Why is it easier to learn when you’re young?

In their third year, Baby is definitely still getting the hang of their native language. They absorb all the words people around them say and does their best to make sense of them.

Because they hasn&;t quite mastered language #1 yet, their brain hasn’t yet decided that there’s one correct way to speak. Their brain isn’t as plastic as it was when they were a newborn, but there’s still time for their brain to wire itself in different ways to accommodate more than one language. The earlier Baby is introduced to a foreign language, the better their brain can adapt to it.

What’s the best way to teach a new language?

If you or someone in your family speaks another language, speak that language around Baby! Some children can start to tell the difference between two languages as young as six months old. Being surrounded with a language is the best way for anyone to learn, and this experience might even be a little more fluid for young children because they don’t quite understand that the words they’re hearing are from a different language, especially if they hear more than one from birth.

If speaking another language at home isn’t an option, there are still ways to help your little one learn a foreign language. There are programs designed specifically for teaching new languages to children, and you might be able to find a class or daycare program with bilingual immersion in your area. If not, there are online programs as well. You can also read books, sing songs, or watch videos in another language, speak another language to Baby as you learn it yourself, or maybe even hire a caregiver who speaks another language.

What are the benefits?

Your toddler won’t just be extra sophisticated with another language under their belt, they might also be extra smart! When a person knows two or more languages, they’re often more creative, better at problem-solving, and have improved cognitive skills.  

They may also benefit from increased academic performance later in life, improvement in their native language skills, and increased cultural awareness. If other people in your family speak this language, it could also help connect your child to those family members and that culture, which is a really cool bonus.

And don’t forget the most obvious benefit: children who know foreign languages are able to communicate with more people and grow in a really awesome language skill! Foreign languages are tres cool, non?

  • Karcz, Susan. “A Way with Words.” Harvard Medicine. Harvard Medical School. Accessed June 13, 2017.
  • Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter.” The New York Times. The New York Times. March 17, 2012.
  • McElroy, Molly. “Bilingual baby brains show increased activity in executive function regions.” Institute for Learning & Brain Science, UW Today. University of Washington. April 4, 2016.

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