If you tried to learn a new language as an adult, and had learned a second language as a child, you might think back and say, “gee, it was so much easier when I was a kid.” Now, lots of things were easier when we were kids and far more agile; but, there’s more to the story than just getting older. When you learn a language at a young age, not all the synapses have been formed. It seemed easier because it was easier. Have you ever noticed how your brain must first do a translation before speaking the foreign words? It’s almost as if a middleman entered in the learning process as you got older, making it more difficult to become fluent quickly.
When a baby is born, only ten percent of the brain synapses have been formed and the brain is at 25% of the adult brain size. Synapses are rapidly forming during those first few years of life. The brain performs a constant forming and pruning process of synapses, depending on which ones are used. That’s why learning a language at a young age will build synapses that optimize the child’s ability to speak and understand a foreign language. Understanding this process and taking advantage of this vital time allows parent to instill great skill in their kids at a young age and fosters the greatest chances of success.
As children, we can hear a foreign language, understand the words in that language and respond in that language with far more ease. But there is still another part of the experience that makes language learning more successful as a child – being submerged in that language. That’s what we refer to as language immersion.
Today, the most effective second language classes are taught to children using immersion techniques to facilitate the learning process and at an incredibly young age! Even toddlers can begin learning a second language in an immersive format.
What a typical Immersion Class Includes:
For the toddlers:
Mommy and me class format for the youngest, aged 1 – 3
Indoor and outdoor play
Dialogue spoken 100% in second language
Music and crafts
For young children:
Children up to age 12
Arts & Crafts
Immersion classes are most effective when they occur often. For instance, this Spanish preschool curriculum runs their program two hours a day every weekday.
These days, many schools are offering classes online until such time it is deemed safe to hold classes in the classroom environment again. However, even online, the kids can interact with other students in the classroom. Indeed, some may have more trouble paying attention from their homes, but that is par for the course during this unusual virus epidemic. Indeed, when classes resume as normal in the fall, many instructors will have to do intense reviews and modify the way they present course material to bring their students up to speed.
Long Term Effects
There are obvious benefits to learning a second language – the ability to communicate with people who speak it, greater comprehension of Latin-based vocabulary, and cultural enrichment. But there are even benefits down the line when the child grows older. Kids who learn a second language at a young age improve their cognitive skills and ability to learn, and retain what they learn, throughout their school years.
For any parent wanting to provide enrichment for their child or improve that child’s ability to succeed in life, enrolling that child in an immersion classroom setting from a young age is an easy way to give that child a learning advantage. Up until the time of puberty, a child has the greatest opportunity to learn and master a foreign language. Of course, this is just one of the many skills a child can master if taught at an early age. Foreign language learning boosts memory and listening skills – skills that are essential all throughout the education years and beyond.
At Home Reinforcement
Naturally, parents can assist in the process by offering kids additional activities at home. These activities may not replace the immersion class opportunity but serve to give the child a chance to practice skills he or she already learned. Making the second language fun is what keeps the child interested in learning and if the activity is done with a parent, it’s also additional time that child gets attention from the parent. That is its own form of positive reinforcement.