[A collaboration post with Day Translations – all thoughts are mine.]
Language learning for children at a young age becomes much more proficient over the long term than adults.
People often assume that children learn new languages easily and without effort, regardless of the situation they find themselves in. But is it really true that children learn a new language that fasts?
Human language is a remarkable way to communicate. It is even more remarkable that in four short years a child can hear, mimic, explore, practice, and finally, learn a new language.
Researchers agree that the earlier a child starts learning a second language, the better, for more reasons than one. Some researchers say that second language acquisition skills peak at or before the age of 6 or 7. They all agree that it’s much harder for a child beyond puberty to learn a new language.
Research has shown that children are highly successful learners if they have a lot of exposure to a new language over a long time. But if the number of languages children are exposed to is limited, as, in classroom language learning, children are slow learners and overall less successful than teenagers or adults.
Below are some reasons why language learning for children is so important.
Bilingualism has a lot of benefits
According to the general consensus, most people on the planet are multilingual – speak more than one language. Some of the reasons for this include a history of colonialism and the modern era of globalization. Even Balinese mostly speak more than two languages.
Speaking multiple languages can slow down the onset of dementia. Think about an old car; one that has been lying in a garage for years. The engine will be much harder to start again after years of inactivity when compared with the same model driven carefully and regularly. Academics call this “cognitive reserve.”
On the other side, being bilingual has advantages in your career. If you are a linguistic graduate, you can apply for a job as a professional translator, interpreter, video transcriber, proofreader, or ESL teacher in another country.
Children have a learning advantage
There’s no proof that children learn languages better than adults, but they are less inhibited – usually, because they’re in more comfortable settings and have more time, like during Easter and summer holidays.
I started learning English when I was in elementary school. I was attracted by a language I didn’t understand at the time. As a result, I asked my parents to take me to a bookstore and buy lots of picture dictionaries. My aunt also gave me a picture game in English. Learning a new language is so much fun!
When the kids play outside, I spend most of my time with the English game and the picture dictionary. I started seriously studying English and took courses for two years until English was the subject with the best grades when I was in middle and high school!
Learning languages expands their world view
I learned English from reading subtitles on the films I watched. At first, I watched Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and most Asian films. My dad likes action movies so I’ve also watched western movies. Hell, I love action/thrillers/horrors movies at such young age because of my father’s influence!
I started to study their language and culture, which of course also made me realize that every person, every place, every country has a different way of life. This difference opened my insight into the world and began to respect every opinion and difference.
Each language has its own style, idioms, cultural references, and heritage. Children who are exposed to these features; the ideas they represent, the new vocabulary, and the grammatical variation, are equipping themselves with the tools to understand the world in completely new ways.
Exposure to languages improves empathy
To be honest, in my country there are still many who view LGBT as a taboo – something that shouldn’t be talked about so easily. But for me, what’s wrong with that? Everyone has the right to choose and determine how they want to live happily.
Since I started learning a language, I’ve been more inclined to judge and see things from different perspectives. We can’t just judge something/someone from one point of view, we also have to look at it from the other side.
Through the course of language learning for children, they are introduced to customs and values belonging to a different society. This encourages them to think from a new point of view, improving cultural sensitivity. At a crucial time in their development, exposing children to new ways of seeing the world and appreciating where others come from can be character-defining.