Why do we want children to learn a second language while focusing on understanding their primary language? It seems like it would be a learning overload when they learn to be friendly, count, play on the playground, and more. However, this is the time in our life when acquiring a second language comes naturally.
Between 0 and 3 years old, children’s brains are particularly suited to learning a second language because their brain is more flexible. Indeed, infants exposed to a second language excelled in detecting language changes from the age of 6 months. Babies and young children can learn a second language just as quickly as they learn to speak their first language. Learning a second language does not negatively affect the child’s mother tongue.
As adults, we must take grammar rules and practices into account, but young children quickly absorb the sounds, structures, intonation patterns, and rules of a second language. Until the age of 8, young children benefit from flexible ears and speech muscles, able to detect the differences between the sounds of a second language.
If young children can learn a second language, why not teach them? Exposure to two languages has many benefits, according to “What Happens in the Brain of a Bilingual Child?” from KQED. Bilingual children may have a more remarkable ability to focus on something and change its response, easily indicating “cognitive flexibility.” Both traits require self-control, a highly desirable trait both in the classroom and in life. When a bilingual child tries to communicate, the languages of the brain “compete” to be activated and chosen. The child has to select one and suppress the other, which requires attention and the brain’s ability to be flexible, which is possible at this early age; interference forces the brain to settle internal conflicts, giving the mind a workout to strengthen cognitive muscles.
Bilingual children are also more proficient at specific types of puzzles. A 2004 study carried out by psychologists Ellen Bialystok, and Michelle Martin-Rhee found that bilingual youth were better at dividing objects by shape and color than their monolingual counterparts who struggled to add a second stroke (such as for shape). This suggests that learning a second language enhances the brain’s command center, allowing it to plan, problem-solve, and perform other mentally demanding tasks. These tasks include changing focus from one topic to another and taking into account information such as memorizing a sequence of instructions when getting ready for school in the morning or adults while driving a car.
Bilingual children also discover that an object remains the same even if it has another name in another language (object permanence). For example, a foot is always a foot in English and French. Studies have also repeatedly shown that learning a foreign language increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and mental flexibility.
Researchers found that young adults who possess the understanding of two languages performed better on attention and concentration tests than those who spoke only one language. They also respond faster or more accurately than their monolingual peers, according to Kapa & Colombo, 2013. This is mainly due to our brain’s training when it switches between languages to decide how to communicate. This allows us to focus better and retain relevant information.
Learning a second language can also protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Recent brain studies have shown that the brains of bilingual people work better and longer after developing the disease. On average, the condition is delayed by four years compared to monolinguals.
Don’t worry that learning two languages will disrupt or distract your child. Remember that their brains are flexible, and the skills they develop beyond learning a second language are immeasurable.
Learn more about how our programs can help your child learn another language: https://myfirstacademy.com/programs/