Nowadays, there is a lot of attention placed on the education of children and the stimulation of their mental capabilities from an early age. Children are taught a lot of things, and many parents are worried about finding the right balance between stimulating their minds and overwhelming them with expectations. One particular matter is the learning of a second language. Should children be taught a second language? Let’s see what are the pros and cons of this questions that many parents consider.
First of all, let’s take a look at the pros of learning a second language during the childhood years. Children learn new things very quickly and, often, more efficiently than adults. The brain of a child is programmed to learn and incorporate new things. In particular, children are able to acquire their first language very quickly, deeply and easily. Children who live in bilingual families often acquire two languages at this stage with great success, suggesting that a child can learn a second language with no detrimental consequences.
Learning a language in childhood can be easier than doing so later in life. It can also give the child an advantage in school and academic settings, as they will be one step ahead in relation to languages. Most schools have requirements for foreign languages, not to mention that extra language might have more opportunities open to them, such as doing a program abroad, for example.
Another reason for it is that children who know more than one language have more cognitive flexibility in general. They are better at “switching” between ideas. They are also more prepared to learn more languages in the future, as they will already have the experience of what it’s like learning a new language, talking in it, using different words, knowing a different grammar and so on.
Another language can also make a different culture more accessible, helping the child develop a more open mind.
In general, learning a new language offers many advantages. However, there are also a few cons worth mentioning.
First of all, children, especially young children, learn best by being constantly exposed to the language. Immersion is the best way to learn, however, this is a method that is not always available. If neither of the parents speaks the language they would like to teach the child, they need to find someone else who does or look for immersion opportunities, which can be costly or difficult to find.
Even if the parents choose another method, sometimes it needs a serious consideration over the money they can spend on it, how much time it will take or how to stay committed to the lessons. In general, it might require extra effort from the parents and be harder for some than for others.
Another important consideration is that children should not be overstimulated. Play is very important, so forcing the child to continuously study or learn things in a context that is not developmentally appropriate (for example, teaching a five year old a new language in a very formal and academic manner) can do more harm than good. An inadequate method or too much emphasis on formal learning can have a negative effect on the child emotionally and cognitively.
A third thing to keep in mind is that children might experience interference. Interference can appear as them mixing up languages or confusing some concepts. Children might also take a little longer to speak or stop speaking for a while; however, these are temporary situations.
In general, learning a second language comes with many benefits, so if the possibility exists, parents should definitely consider it. It gives many advantages and can be a great investment for the future. However, it’s important to note that language lessons need to be done in a way that is according to the child’s age and motivation and not replace opportunities for play or just being a child. It’s important to find the best method and the one that best adjusts to the parents’ possibilities and motivation.