Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language?

Most experts agree that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chances are that the child will become truly proficient in the language. A February 1996 Newsweek article made the claim that “A child taught a second language after the age of 10 or so is unlikely ever to speak it like a native.” This statement is supported by linguists and has been proven in extensive research studies. A number of experts attribute this proficiency to physiological changes that occur in the maturing brain as a child enters puberty. Of course, as with any subject, the more years a child can devote to learning a language, the more competent he or she will become. Regardless, introducing children to alternative ways of expressing themselves and to different cultures generally broadens their outlook and gives them the opportunity to communicate with many more people.

In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children may derive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills. Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive advantage in the work force by opening up additional job opportunities.

If children are enrolled in a Language Program in their School, What can I do to help them learn and Practice?

Most importantly, encourage your child’s interest in the language and in other cultures. Show her that you value the ability to speak a second language. Attend cultural events that feature music, dance, or food from the country or countries where the language is spoken. If possible, provide some books, videos, or other materials in the second language. If you are familiar with the language yourself, read to her. Summer programs offering international exchange are suitable for older children and offer valuable opportunities to speak the second language and explore a different culture firsthand.

What is the best age to start a second language?

I discussed the myth that young children are the best second language learners. In fact, studies have shown that adolescents and adults are in many ways better at learning a new language than children, except in the area of pronunciation. This is probably because they are already literate in their first language and can use some of their knowledge about language and language learning when learning the second language. However, this doesn’t answer the important question: What’s the best age to learn a new language? Some specialists in language acquisition claim that the sooner a child starts to learn a second language the better. It certainly seems to make sense that the earlier you start, the longer you will have to learn, and the more progress you will make compared with someone who started later.