Why Learn Languages
Early Childhood & Elementary
It’s never too early to begin learning a language: it’s fun, it promotes healthy development, and the many cognitive and social benefits will last a lifetime. Here are some of the reasons why learning a language puts your child at a significant advantage, and how you can help—whether or not you know another language.
Give Them a Head Start
Children who learn another language before age five use the same part of the brain to acquire that second language that they use to learn their mother tongue. Younger learners are also uninhibited by the fear of making mistakes, which is sometimes an obstacle for older beginners.
Start Early, Stay Long!
The length of time a student is able to devote to learning a language has a direct and positive correlation to cognitive development. Longer sequences also provide the opportunity for learners to grow alongside the additional language and culture, developing a deeper connection as they mature.
Feed Their Brains
Research shows that learning a second language boosts problem-solving, critical-thinking, and listening skills, in addition to improving memory, concentration, and the ability to multitask. Children proficient in other languages also show signs of enhanced creativity and mental flexibility.
Boost Their Academic Achievement
The cognitive benefits of learning a language have a direct impact on a child’s academic achievement. Compared to those without an additional language, bilingual children have improved reading, writing, and math skills, and they generally score higher on standardized tests.
Nurture Their Curiosity, Cultural Sensitivity, Empathy, and Tolerance
Children who are exposed early to other languages display more positive attitudes to the cultures associated with those languages. The experience of learning a language introduces them to the world in ways they might otherwise have not experienced.
Don’t Hesitate: Go for Two… or Three
Contrary to popular belief, young children are not confused by the introduction of multiple languages at the same time. Not only do they naturally navigate multilingual environments, but acquiring a second language early in life primes the brain to learn multiple other languages, opening a world of opportunities for later on.
What You Can Do to Help Your Child
Whether you are bilingual or this is your first experience with another language, your support will make a tremendous difference to your child’s success. You don’t have to be fluent in the language your child is learning in order to create an encouraging and active learning environment. Provide as many opportunities for authentic experiences as you can and check out the many online tools and resources available at your fingertips. For more ideas on how to make language learning fun, see:
Would you like to start a language program in your child’s school? Or maybe your child is in an at-risk program in danger of being cut? Learn how you and other like-minded parent advocates can work with your school district to make a change:
For Additional Reading
- Raising a Truly Bilingual Child – The New York Times
- A Guide to Raising Bilingual Children – CNN
- Raising a Trilingual Child – The Wall Street Journal
- The brain-growing magic of foreign languages … and six ways you can expose your kids early! – GreatSchools.org
Looking for Even More?
Check out this review of Mother Tongue, Christine Gilbert’s memoir. In the book, Gilbert takes us along for the trip of a lifetime—sharing all the multilingual adventures that ensue as she travels with her husband and young children through China, Lebanon, Mexico, and beyond, navigating real-life and linguistic situations as they arise.