There are many benefits of knowing a second language, from being able to communicate with the native speakers of that language and learn more about their culture to having an easier time finding a job. However, many parents are worried about pressuring their child into learning another language too soon. After all, young kids are still learning their first language, and you don’t really want to overwhelm them. With that in mind, here are some things you should know about learning a second language and the best time for it.
The difference between acquisition and learning
First thing’s first, you need to understand the difference between acquiring a language and learning it. People who don’t know it often compare the usual language learning with the learning of a child, especially when a person is trying to learn the language of their new environment. While it is true that being around native speakers can help you learn a language a bit more easily, after a certain age, it will still require a conscious effort.
The thing is, before the age of 10-12, kids acquire languages subconsciously, without being aware of the grammatical rules. After that age, it becomes increasingly harder and more based on actual, conscious learning of the rules.
What do the scientists say?
All scientists agree that the earlier the child starts learning a second language, the better. Some researchers have come to the conclusions that language acquisition works best before the age of 6 or 7. Moreover, some studies have shown that the brain can handle the second language pretty well until the age of 17 or 18 – although full, native-like acquisition is only possible until the age of 10. After that, learning a language in the same way as a native speaker becomes much more difficult.
This is most obvious when it comes to the accent, as those who start learning their second language later will have a difficult time losing their native accent when speaking that second language. So, for example, if you want your child to speak English with an American or British accent, but you don’t have it yourself, you should look for a good English learning centre where they’ll get a chance to learn all aspects of a language.
Will it affect your child’s first language?
Some parents are hesitant about teaching their child a second language too early because they think it might affect the learning of the first language. In terms of vocabulary, this may be somewhat true. Bilingual infants split the time between the two languages they are acquiring, so they usually know fewer words in each language.
However, in terms of language skills, research has shown that they don’t lag behind. When combined, the size of their vocabulary turns out to be the same or greater than those of monolingual kids. They might also be seen using one word in one language and another in their other language, but this code-switching is completely normal and not a result of any confusion.
There are many benefits to learning a second language. Some of them are related to your child’s mental health, like the ability to multitask better or the lower risk of age-related cognitive issues. Some are more social and emotional, like the improvement of your child’s empathy and becoming more open-minded towards other cultures. Finally, some benefits are related to your child’s lifestyle, as knowing a second language can improve their career opportunities and even their salary. No matter the reason, there are no downfalls.
All in all, it’s never too soon for your child to start learning a second language. So, find a good school, spend time practising languages at home too, and they’ll be speaking languages fluently in no time.
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