When it comes to language learning, most educational professionals agree that it’s never too early to begin bilingual teachings. While you may think introducing a second (or third) language to your child as they are still mastering their primary language could be confusing, the opposite is actually true. In fact, studies have found that there is no better time to begin bilingualism than during early childhood development stages.
“Between the ages of 0-3, the brains of young children are uniquely suited to learn a second language as the brain is in its most flexible stage,” according to researchers at Michigan State University.
In fact, researchers have found that children begin picking up multiple languages and discerning between them within the first few months of life. It is something that is learned with the same level of ease as any other major milestone during the early years.
International Language Learning
International language learning, or bilingualism, is the process of absorption and comprehension of different languages simultaneously. Since language learning forms the basis for all other learning avenues throughout life, it makes sense to consider the benefits of expanding the language learning process.
In layman’s terms, we use language to communicate every imperative process. Whether it be conveying our feelings or teaching any range of subjects, we use language to progress through life. For this reason, language learning is considered one of the most important areas of a child’s education. By extension, learning additional languages only serves to further this core educational commodity. In short, the more proficient a child is with their language skills, the easier it will be for them to excel in other areas as well.
Learning Bilingualism Early
Knowing that bilingualism is the key to unlocking learning potential throughout your child’s education is only the first part of the equation. Many parents question when to begin teaching their children, afraid an early introduction will lead to confusion.
According to researchers at Michigan State University, however, the earlier you introduce children to a second language, the better off they will be. In fact, it has been shown that children are able to pick up bilingualism much faster than adolescents and adults. Yes, kids will learn faster (and more efficiently) than anyone else when it comes to bilingualism.
“As adults, we have to consider grammar rules and practice, but young children absorb sounds, structures, intonation patterns and the rules of a second language very easily. Up until the age of 8, young learners benefit from flexible ear and speech muscles that can detect differences between the sounds of a second language.” – www.canr.msu.edu.
It is this flexibility during the early education years that makes children excellent bilingual sponges. Their ability to pick up on the subtleties of different languages are unparalleled at any other age.
Beyond their ability to learn international language much quicker than their older counterparts, the benefits of childhood bilingualism are astounding. By pushing children’s language limits, we are essentially giving them critical tools to help with virtually every aspect of cognitive reasoning later in life.
Essentially, when children learn second or third languages at an early age, they are also learning so many other valuable skills. What once was feared as confusion, researchers now say that children’s minds are being “tested” when bilingual children communicate. They are faced with two separate ways to verbalize what they want to say and must concentrate on which language is appropriate for their situation.
While this may seem trivial – or even confusing – in early childhood, the cognitive functions required for mastering this involve learning a high level of focus and control. Bilingualism teaches children to think before they speak; to choose their words carefully. These are skills that are critical to flexible thinking and learning all through their lives.
Another critical aspect to international language learning in early childhood lies with object permanence. It may seem like a simple lesson, but while young children are learning about their surroundings and how to communicate, they also learn about physical attributes of their environments.
Part of this learning is object permanence – the knowledge that something doesn’t just “disappear” simply because it is out of sight. With bilingualism, children pick up this concept on a deeper level by understanding that the same object may have many different names, even though the object remains constant.
Cognitive Development Benefits
In addition to aiding in core learning milestones like object permanence, bilingualism in the early years also helps children’s cognitive development grow exponentially. The intricacies of mastering a second language help to sharpen the mind with things like problem solving and decoding puzzles.
“Bilingual children are also more adept at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles… the bilingual experience improves the brain’s command center, thus giving it the ability to plan, solve problems and perform other mentally demanding tasks.” – Michigan State University.
Additional Benefits of International Language Learning
According to research done by psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee (as reported by Michigan State University), international language learning in the earliest years unlocks numerous skills in cognitive development. These skills are some of the greatest attributes your child will carry with them and will aid them in improving every aspect of their education along the way.
In fact, MSU states, the improved performance of bilingual children has been directly linked to the “workout our brain receives while switching back and forth between one language and another when deciding how to communicate.” This cognitive workout has even been linked to lower rates of mental illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.
Overall, the problem-solving skills that are mastered with bilingualism are a highly invaluable asset that will aid children throughout their learning careers. Combining the ability to focus on a task at hand with the ability to sort out pieces of a puzzle (both figuratively and literally), bilingualism is one of the greatest learning tools you can give your children.