I received an email from Emily Patterson of Primrose Schools a couple of weeks ago, offering to share an article she had written about the merits of bilingual education in early childhood. Having not studied a foreign language myself until I was in high school, but ultimately majoring in a language in college, this is a topic near and dear to my heart…
Early Childhood Education – The Best Time For Bilingual Learning
Nobody really knows what the future will hold, but if current trends continue, our children will grow up to enter a workforce in which the competition is fierce. So it goes without saying that a good education is one of the best ways to prepare our children for survival in that economic jungle of the future.
The Bilingual Future
One of these trends is the existence of a diverse, global society. Nowhere is this truer than in the United States. Almost from the beginning, the U.S. has been a land of immigrants, 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.
A second language is normally introduced into a child’s education when they are in middle school, or even in some cases, not until the high school level. Research has shown, however, that this teaching can begin as early as the age of two when most are either at home with their parent(s) or enrolled in a child care facility. 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.
According to many educators throughout the world, it is just as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. This has been believed for decades by many. When young children are learning a second or third language, since they don’t fully understand their first, they don’t have anything to compare it to or have a barrier to learning a new one.
The best way for a child to learn a second language effectively is by being completely immersed in the 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.
Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Austin child care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose child care schools. Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.
Have you introduced any other languages to your children? Did you do it formally or informally? I’d love to hear about strategies that have worked for other families.