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The Top Three Benefits of Learning a Second Language Early in Life


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Parents and teachers today are increasingly aware of the need to raise their children to be bilingual. They have witnessed an ever growing need for acquiring new languages and mastering the awareness of other cultures. Preparing our young children of today for the world of tomorrow is not only our responsibility but our immediate task at hand. Experts continually report, the earlier the better when it comes to introducing a second language to children ages birth through ten.

Why is this age so ripe for the language learning? During the first five years of life a young child is less self conscious about any possible mistakes made while practicing a new found language. In fact, one of the reasons why young children are so successful in picking up the new sounds of a new language is because they are less inhibited when it comes to trying the new language on for size when compared to older children and adults. One of the greatest things realized here is that native and near native pronunciation is one of the positive side effects enjoyed when children learn a second language this early in life.

Research pours in demonstrating the many benefits derived from second and third and fourth language learning early in life. The first of which is directly connected with Ready to Read, Ready to Learn, Born to Read and other education initiatives that promote early reading skills. Did you realize that children who are being introduced to a second language during the first five years of life will exhibit advanced reading skills when compared to monolingual peers? Dr. Ellen Bialystok of York University and her team of research experts have conducted many studies on child language acquisition. Their studies show time and time again that the children who receive instruction in two languages score twice as high on language tests than their monolingual peers. These bilingual children also read sooner according to the published reports. (Dr Ellen Bialystok, 2001)

As a teacher, it is easy to understand the reasoning as to why this happens. If a child is learning English in their home, and the parents begin to add Spanish vocabulary words and phrases into the daily routine of that child by placing the new language right alongside the native language, the child then begins to decode the two languages simultaneously. Experts advise that it is just as easy for a baby, toddler and preschool age child to learn two words for one item as it is to learn only one word. There is no confusion on the part of the child. There will be no language delay. There will simply be the additional vocabulary words added to the list that the child is able to master as he begins to verbalize his understanding of the world around him.

The use of bilingual DVDs, CDs, and books that introduce the new language in a true bilingual presentation are highly suggested by experts in the fields of linguistics and early childhood development. Immersion can work, but latest findings suggest that the bilingual method, one where the native language is placed right alongside the new language, provides for higher level of self confidence, better language acquisition and understanding, and increased long term retention. Many experts advise saving immersion methods for the later elementary school years and into middle and high school when most children have mastered the majority of their native language skills.

Standardized tests have become a way to measure the success of our children and their level of learning, from elementary school all the way through college. A 2002 study out of Miami-Dade County public schools reported that children receiving instruction in both Spanish and English scored 23-34 points higher in the verbal and math sections on standardized tests. (Dr.Joanne Urratia, 2002) Being aware of this benefit derived from second language learning should be enough of a motivation for school systems nationwide to begin early language learning at the preschool and elementary school level. Now, do not chuckle. I know that with budget cuts and lack of funding for even decent salaries, our children will never see this happen.

That is why it is up to us as parents and teachers to use this information about the best way to bring second language learning into the lives of our young children, and make it happen immediately. Do not worry if you yourself do not speak a second language. As Drs. Kendall King and Alison Mackey tell us in their book titled The Bilingual Edge (2007), the key is the ability of the parent or teacher to interact with the child using the second language. They inform us as well that the critical piece does not rest on you having perfect pronunciation and native accent. Children learn their native language and new language in spite of grammatical errors you might make or imperfect speech that might be directed their way.

A bilingual child typically enjoys the titles of great communicator and excellent problem solver. These coveted titles cover the last of the top three benefits of learning a second language early in life. It seems quite logical that a young child, who is being introduced to a second language during the years when his brain is experiencing amazing developmental growth, will in turn develop excellent communication skills. If you heard but forgot or perhaps never heard this statistic at all, it is an important one: At birth 25% of your brain is developed and by age five 90% of your brain is developed. Due to the part of the brain being used to acquire these language skills, the bilingual child becomes skillful in problem solving. I am certain you would agree that these two titles can assist a person on their journey of life.

Let us begin the task at hand today. Allow your child to experience the gift of learning a second language using true bilingual methods and products. Then enjoy watching your child delight in the many benefits derived from an early introduction to new languages. Who knows, maybe your child will be reading you your good night story soon.
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