The Pros of Primary Language Learning
Apr 7, 2013 English Language Teaching (ELT) 1916 Views
It is agreed by most that learning languages from a young age is a good idea but why is this? Traditionally, in England, language learning was introduced at the age of 14, but over the last few years more and more primary schools have been including it in their curriculum. Far from being a fleeting trend, it has now recently even become the focus of a legislative measure which stipulates that languages will be compulsory in all primary schools from 2014.
The first and most convincing argument for teaching languages to younger children is that it is easier for young children to learn them. This is not merely an assumption, it has been scientifically proven. All young animals of any species, including humans, go through critical periods during which they are particularly receptive to learning or mapping new information. It is during the critical period of cortex development that babies and infants are most able to pick up new words and sounds, something which gets more difficult after the age of one. It is still easier for children to learn new words but after the age of 10, it becomes increasingly harder until, as adults, it is exceptionally difficult. Introducing children to languages in primary school is likely to not only make them more competent in a foreign tongue, but also reduce the chance of them becoming frustrated through not understanding.
Children who learn a language from a young age also show measurable improvements in other cognitive skills with studies showing that such children are more creative and better at solving complicated problems. Furthermore, getting to grips with one additional language early on, facilitates the learning of other tongues because the child is already familiar with different linguistic structures.
Introducing young children to languages also simultaneously introduces them to other cultures. The UK encompasses many different cultures, ethnicities and religions making cultural awareness in young people essential. Better educating children about other countries will prepare them for their future in an increasingly interconnected world where travel and technology link people from all over.
Lastly, the younger a child is when they are introduced to a language, the more time they have to attain a greater proficiency in it. Young children tend to be less self-conscious than teenagers so getting them comfortable practising with their peers before they reach secondary school is very important. When they are comfortable, they will practice more, which is essential for becoming fluent. Fluency in another language is a great asset in the working world and if a child has achieved this level by the time they leave school, they stand in much better stead to start a career. In addition, they will be well equipped when it comes to going abroad.
Overall, having any number of additional languages is of great benefit to anyone so it makes good sense to give children the best possible chance of learning one. If it is easier when they are younger, why not take the strain out of it and give them a head start?