Why Young Children Should Learn a Second Language
By Jeannine Laubner
A young child’s brain is wired for language learning. It responds readily when a child engages with fluent speakers and has the chance to use a second language in everyday life. As the child learns the new language, he or she also learns to interact with others.
Studies show that language learning is most effective when it is interactive. A child who learns a new language is learning how to listen to others, process what they say, and respond accordingly. Because the language is unfamiliar, the process of hearing and responding is more deliberate and thus more impactful than it is in the child’s primary language.
Use of a second language also expands a child’s metalinguistic awareness, defined as an ability to differentiate between sounds, syntax, and vocabulary. Studies have shown that these skills develop in children who are bilingual from earliest childhood as well as in those who attend preschool immersion programs. Children in both groups can not only speak and understand multiple languages but also show understanding of language’s basic structures.
Research has also shown that children in immersion programs outperform monolingual children in tests of executive function. This skill set determines a child’s capacity for:
• selective attention
• advance planning and prioritizing
• impulse inhibition
• flexible thinking
As a child becomes bilingual, he or she practices all of these skills in the process of alternating between languages. They become more self-regulated and increasingly able to shift from one task to another.
The same skills also help children to be more aware of their surroundings. As they become accustomed to listening to what language others are speaking, they learn to look and listen to their environments in other ways as well.
Whether you speak two languages at home or send your child to a bilingual preschool, your choices are laying a foundation for your child’s multifaceted success. Everyday interactions help the child to:
• understand how language works
• consciously listen to others’ words, tone, and intention
• deliberately respond with careful word choice
• select the language based on the setting
This is the child who, when he or she reaches primary school and beyond, can learn effectively from lectures as well as group work. It is the child whose friends know him or her as a good listener and a kind person. And what parent wouldn’t want that?
About the author:
Jeannine Laubner is the Academic Director of Kipinä Kids Nurseries and Preschools, the world’s fastest-growing international Finnish preschool franchise. She is a fourth-generation teacher, and mother of two Kipinä-educated children. Hailing from San Francisco, USA, she is a successful leader in education with over 18 years of experience. Jeannine holds a Masters degree in Teaching, a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development certification. When she is not developing teaching tools for the Kipinä Enhanced Finland Curriculum, she is supporting green initiatives, animal welfare and Girl Scouts Overseas.