Children are great at language learning. It’s amazing to think about the fact that children aren’t born knowing any language. They just have the ability to learn a language and through interactions and conversation, they magically learned a language. It might seem crazy to be introducing a second language to your child when maybe they haven’t mastered their native language. However, it’s perfectly okay and actually encouraged to introduce a second language to your child at a young age. Your next concern might be: when is the best age to introduce this language? You might be wondering if your toddler is too young or if your 12-year-old is too old to pick up a second native language. However, if you’re on the fence about getting your child to learn a language, then let’s tackle that first!
Benefits of Being Bilingual as a Child
There are many benefits of making your child acquire a second language. We’ve done a whole blog post on raising a bilingual child, even if you’re not bilingual yourself. If you need a brief summary of the benefits, they are:
Better Communication Skills- It’s said that bilingual children develop better communication skills. It’s said that bilingual children use fewer and simpler sentences
Better Critical Thinking Skills- According to a study done at Harvard, critical thinking skills are enhanced for children that learn a second language.
Better Creative Thinking- Not only will children be able to think critically, studies show that they are able to think more creatively as well.
Better Job Opportunities- You might not be actively thinking about what your 3-year-old may grow up to be but there is nothing wrong with setting him up for a future filled with opportunities at his age. Knowing a second language will open up so many doors for your kids when they get older and they’ll surely thank you for it.
How Children Learn Languages
Children are typically born with the ability to make around 40 sounds and to make associations between sounds and objects, actions, or ideas. Those are the tools that allow a child to learn languages. Language acquisition causes our children’s brain to grow and change more than any other cognitive skill acquisition during their first six years of life.
It’s also a common misconception that language learning is a passive activity for children. That’s simply not true, language learning is a very active process. Children learn languages by actively listening to you and anyone else that speaks to them. Children try to mimic your tone, rhythm, non-verbal expressions and even volume from they are very young. When you hear your toddler babbling or creating sentences that probably only make sense to you, they’re just practicing language learning.
What Researchers Say About the Best Age to Learn a Second Language
50% of our ability to learn is developed by age 3 and 30% by age 8. That means that our learning pathways are mostly developed at a young age.
The truth is researchers aren’t able to agree on an age. What researchers can agree on, is that it’s easier for children to learn languages than adults. A study done by a neurology professor at UCLA, Dr. Paul Thompson and his team found out that the brain systems in charge of language learning have accelerated growth from six years old until puberty.
Another study was done at MIT and it concluded that the most optimal time to learn a new language and achieve native fluency was by age 10. The study posits that children are better able to absorb information and learn the language well. While it’s understood that it’s possible to learn a language as an adult, it’s understood that after the age of 18, it’s less likely to have the fluency of a native speaker.
Studies have also concluded that the younger the learner, the easier it is for them to recreate new sound and learn pronunciation.
Part of the reason why it’s best to pick up a second language as a child is because children have the time. Children are not yet overwhelmed with complex studies and jobs and so they can devote more time to learning languages. In addition to that, toddlers aren’t bogged down by facts and other information just yet and are able to learn a lot about languages through play.
Technically you’re never too old to learn a language. However, the research is clear, the best time to learn a language is in childhood, it just gets more difficult after puberty. There are so many languages you and your child can choose from. Being native English speakers already put you at an advantage because typically, people learn English as their second language. You have the option to pick and choose any language for your child. Spanish is a popular favorite as it’s the second most spoken language in the world!
If you decide to get your child to learn a second language, consider TruFluency Kids. Our methods are tried, proven and kid-friendly. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.