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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Second Language Learning and Young Children

Bilingual Education Starting Young

For the past four years the economy has been struggling, the unemployment rate has been on a steady increase, and families all over the U.S. are feeling it in some respect.  It seems that even though the economy has finally started to improve there is no guarantee for the future.  Having an education may be the only way to stay ahead in this cut-throat society.

What the future holds for language...

The existence of a diverse, global society seems to be a trend that is going to stick, this is especially prevalent in the U.S. The U.S. has been known as the land of immigration for a large portion of its history, and while the "melting pot" has been an interesting theory, it has not happened in practice. On the contrary, most major U.S. population centers have become more of an ethnic and linguistic checkerboard; Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese speakers represent some of the fastest-growing segments of the immigrant U.S. population.

Being Prepared

Wisdom, traditionally, has been to start teaching a second language in middle school, or even high school. However, numerous studies clearly demonstrate that the optimal period in a child's life for multilingual education is during the preschool years – at exactly the same time they are learning their first language. Yes, it is possible to learn a second and third language later in life, but it is more difficult, because that neurological "window of opportunity" – when the brain is most malleable – has passed.

Dr. Fred Genessee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal believes it's as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. He's not alone; educators throughout the world (in countries that often have two or even three official languages) have understood this for decades.

The way a child learns a second language is by actually speaking it in a total immersion environment. You may recall an episode of the animated series The Simpsons in which young Bart gets trapped on a farm in France – and by the end of the episode, finds he's actually speaking the language. While this was a fictional scenario, the phenomenon is real; anyone who has taken young children abroad to stay with relatives in a foreign country for any length of time has observed this happening.

Enrollment in a preschool program that offers immersion in other languages is the best way to get your child started.  This investment will make him/her much more competitive in the job market later on.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Atlanta day care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of day care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

I read the above article and thought I would share.  My son actually attends a Primrose School and the education he has received has more than prepared him to enter into public school next year.  Not only has he learned his ABCs and 123s, but a wealth of other skills as well. 

One of those skills is indeed a second language.  I noticed a couple of weeks ago that he has begun to inter mix a bit of Spanish into his daily conversations.  Instead of saying... "May I please have a snack?"  He would say something like... "May I have a snack por favor?"  He also began using sign language to ask for more food or drink during dinner time.

Learning a second and third language has not been a challenge in the least.  He is always very excited to come home and try to teach me the new languages and challenge me to use the words when speaking to him.

I think the time dedicated to sign language and Spanish at his pre-school have had a tremendous benefit as he wants to continue this learning throughout every day... not just the days he attends school.

What do you think about the importance of learning a second language?

1 comment:

  1. That is so interesting! I just finished a term paper for my capstone class about second language learning/importance of multiculturalism, etc.

    I focused specifically on how television shows teach languages- Dora the Explorer, and Ni Hao Kai Lan but the school you describe sounds super interesting! (and also more efficient)


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