The Benefits of Learning a Second Language
By Sanja Subasic - Discovery Child Development Center Pre-K Teacher
Growing evidence suggests that giving young children an exposure to a second language, either at home or at school, provides cognitive benefits that can last a lifetime. Research suggests that early childhood is the best time to learn a new language.
I have the privilege of teaching children from families who come from a variety of countries and backgrounds. While learning a new language provides so many benefits, many parents have questions and concerns about what learning a second language will mean for their child’s development. Common questions include:
To address and answer frequently asked questions and avoid misinterpretations, our parents and teachers are encouraged to focus on research findings from a variety of scientific fields including developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, education and linguistics.
Will Bilingualism Lead to Confusion and/or Delays?
Many parents express fear that their child might have a language delay if they continue speaking their native language at home while learning English at school. The research in this field shows that being bilingual does not decrease or increase the chance of having a language delay. Just as there are children who speak one language and have a language delay, there are also bilingual children who have a delay. Even as early as infancy, children can differentiate multiple languages without confusion. Children will sometimes alternate between languages in what is known as code-switching, but that actually shows that they have understanding in both languages rather than confusion.
When is the best time to learn a second language?
While it is never too late to learn a new language, research has consistently shown that the early years are the ideal time for it. Young children are able to distinguish sounds and the brain is at its most flexible. A 2018 MIT study showed that it is best to start learning a new language by age 10 to achieve native-like fluency. Since children are well equipped to learn additional languages during the preschool years, it is a wonderful time for them to begin to learn an additional language.
What are the benefits of learning an additional language?
There are so many benefits to learning additional languages. Raising your child to be bilingual increases their understanding of the world from a new perspective and allows them to communicate with a broader range of people from different language and cultural backgrounds.
Studies have also found that bilingual children often perform better when asked to multi-task and it can also lead to increased ability to concentrate on a task. It has also been shown to benefit brain development and can improve communication skills in a child’s first language as well.
While teaching a child a second language does take time and effort, the investment is well worth it.
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