Colegio Infantil trilingue con guardería de Varsovia

How should we teach languages to small children efficiently?

31 March 2010
Is it worth teaching languages to small children? When we ask such a question most of the parents will answer yes. Only then doubts arise: when should we start?, how should it be done? We encounter many diverse opinions. Some people warn parents not to start too early, others encourage early learning. Unfortunately  school system is not very efficient as far as teaching the language, nevertheless parents’ and teachers’ role in this process is crucial.             Parents can offer a great gift to their children by giving them opportunity to have live contact with the language. The fastest way for a child to learn the language is to be immersed in it. That’s why children who spent even short time abroad understand and speak the language easily. Not all the parents, however, can afford offering such opportunities. Other very interesting possibility is a language pre-school where all the classes take place in a foreign language. Obviously we should first ask ourselves if the child is ready for such a challenge, but in most cases language issues are secondary. It is important that the child feels well in the pre-school and language will come naturally, almost unnoticed. What is the best method-how should we teach?  It’s all about being surrounded by a language. Linguists talk about “language immersion”. A child should listen to all dialogues and sentences. Language learning can not be limited to scattered words without a context. It cannot be either interrupted by the mother tongue – it’s one language at a time. Translating words into mother tongue can make language acquisition more difficult in case of children. Instead of building two separate language paths in the brain the child will create only one used for the mother tongue. In other words the child will get used to translate instead of speaking naturally, he or she will translate mother tongue words and expressions into a foreign language. Such learning has many weak points: it lasts longer and brings mistakes and constructions imported from the mother tongue. Full  immersion and bilingual groups I support full immersion method. It lets children build strong basis for the second language acquisition. In full immersion program a child spends most of his active time surrounded by the second language and anything that takes place during that time happens in that language: activities, daily routine etc. In the group teacher speaks only one language (his/her native one). This language is used during musical, art, dance and many other classes. Such a group functions as a normal pre-school group but everything is conducted in a foreign language. Bilingual programs where one teacher speaks mother tongue and the other one a foreign language lack natural aspect of full immersion programs. First of all there will always be a problem of the language that both teachers use to talk to each other, and secondly language- conscious children will naturally communicate easier with someone speaking their mother tongue than someone speaking a foreign language. Usually bilingual groups let children have passive language knowledge and its active use should be encouraged by extra classes or journeys to countries using a certain language. Why should we teach children languages as early as possible? The earlier we start the easier it will be. The best proof is time that a child needs to learn mother tongue. Within 3-4 years he or she is able to master mother tongue he was surrounded by. We can start teaching a foreign language before the child is born. It was shown that a newborn is able to recognize mother’s voice and the language she was using right after being born. First small children are very receptive. Long time ago scientists noticed that about 50 percent of our capacities develop till the age of 4.A baby learns the most till the age of two. It is within this time that human brain creates connections that are responsible for knowledge acquisition. In case of language learning the earlier we teach languages the biggest the chance that the child will create a separate path for each language that he or she hears. Moreover, if the child is stimulated by listening to a foreign language he or she develops faster.  Second small children are very curious. They accept anything that parents suggest them. Instead of feeling uncomfortable while surrounded by a different language they feel curious to listen to it. Third language learning is beneficial to the development of abstract thinking.The child starts to notice that there is  a table as an object and the word “table” to describe it. The information that one object can have two words to describe it “table” in English and “mesa” in Spanish makes the child conscious of the difference and relationship between a real object and an abstract word.                                                                                                                                                    Fourth In the surrounding word information revolutionary changes encourage us to change attitude. Some years ago knowing a language was just a plus, today it is a must and knowing a couple of languages doesn’t impress anybody anymore.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Fifth children learn languages at ease with lots of fun. They have the capacity to learn grammar, vocabulary and many others effortlessly. The younger the child the more naturally he or she will learn native-like pronunciation. He or she will not feel resistant to use a different language. Children who start learning languages early are more conscious of their mother-tongue structures, as they learn about the existence of the language itself early. They are more open to the world and its diversity than monolingual children, who believe very often that their language and customs are the only ones in the world or the only ones that mean something. Introducing a second language into the child’s world helps him or her develop tolerance towards other people and in the future helps mutual international understanding.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sixth In most cases learning second language helps children learning other subjects. They understand and use better their own mother tongue thanks to the presence of the second language. The earlier we introduce the second language the quickest the child will Iearn it fluently. Scientists show that the children who learnt the language in their early years are closer to the native level of language to those who learnt it as teenagers.                                                       Seventh Scientists have shown that human brain reaches its development peak at the age of seven. During the first six years of life we absorb lots of facts and information that we keep in mind. The development of the child's brain can be conducted by providing the right information. The process of language acquisition is very complex, nevertheless the child learns one or more languages before he or she reaches three years old and sometimes earlier. Learning a foreign language develops many paths in the cerebral cortex and stimulates considerably the development of general intelligence. It helps also children suffering diverse psychological and physical challenges as well as autistic children. With age it is harder to learn the native accent, correct grammar structures and native-like knowledge of the language. Learning languages at early years makes children discover that acquiring such knowledge can be fun. A toddler who listens to two languages will grow in understanding of both. It happens in many multilingual families that the child understands and speaks three or four languages. The experience shows that distinguishing languages is not a problem for the children. Learning diverse languages at very early years increases intellectual capacity of the child. Being multilingual fosters better and faster development Scientists say that learning languages activates right cerebral hemisphere. With age the left hemisphere becomes more important for this process- we start learning the language the same as we learn mathematics. The right hemisphere learns the language through the melody, touch, emotions and experience. That’s why total immersion curriculum where children learn the language on every day basis is very efficient.
  • Scientists say that the best time to learn the language is between infancy and 10 years old.
  • Young brain creates separate paths for each language that surrounds it
  • Children at pre-school age are very curious and learn about other cultures easily
  • Learning the foreign language increases communication capacities in mother tongue
  • Multilingual children are more creative and more self-confident
  • In the future multilingual children have better university results and easier career path.
How should we teach?

First of all teaching and learning must be regular and fun. Two most important factors are: joy and repetition. And joy is even more important. Learning a language is never an accomplished process, so it is very important that the child has a positive attitude towards it. Things that are fun should be repeated. It is known already that a child will treat the foreign language as his mother tongue if he or she is immersed in it through one third of his/her active time. That’s why three languages are a success guarantee without danger of language explosive mixture( if we introduce too many of them).