Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Bilingual kids 'more successful'... so what is the perfect age to teach your children a second language?

With the government set to change the way foreign languages are taught in schools (see this article by the BBC for more details) there couldn't be a better time to introduce a second language to your child, but many parents have a lot of doubts and questions, 'will it confuse my child', 'what will it add to their general education and learning skills' etc etc, keep reading to find some of the answers to the questions...
The best time to teach your child a second language is the same time they are learning their first one.  
"Kids this age are developing language skills rapidly, and they quickly absorb whatever they hear," says Erika Levy, Ph.D., assistant professor of speech and language pathology at Comlumbia University Teachers College, in New York City. "They can learn to understand new words in two different languages at an incredibly fast rate."

So why are increasing numbers of parents choosing to teach their child a second language? Well a popular reason is their family heritage, if children have grandparents or other relatives who are originally from Italy, Spain, China, etc it is nice to keep that close tie with their roots by teaching the child to speak the language. As well as this, in today's society where overseas travel and trade are so common, it is a huge advantage to have at least a second language to maximise such opportunities (incidentally research shows that bilingual people find it easier to learn further languages).
A recent study conducted by Strathclyde University with colleagues from the University of Cagliari in Sardinia showed that the bilingual children were "significantly more successful in the tasks set for them".
It was led by Dr Fraser Lauchlan, an honorary lecturer at Strathclyde's school of psychological sciences. He said: "Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them.
"Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively."

Of course the easiest way to teach your child a second language is if one parent is already fluent in it,
Here are some things to remember in a bilingual household:
  • Try 'one person, one language.' It's helpful to have one adult speak only the second language to your child so she doesn't get just pieces of it and is familiar with the flow and intonation.
  • Expect minor mix-ups. It's natural for a child to confuse the word order or use words from both languages in the same sentence. They will quickly learn to separate the languages.
  • Don't underestimate their progress. Even though many people think learning two languages causes speech delays, that is not the case. Your little one might say fewer English words than other kids their age, but if you add in the words they know in their second language, their total number of words will probably be more than that of their peers.
If neither parent is bilingual don't worry, here are some tips to teach your child a second language:
  • Start as early as possible. By the age of 2 - 3 years old, children are not only increasing their vocabularies, they're starting to recognise the speech patterns they've been hearing since birth. The earlier you introduce a second language, the easier it will be for your child to pick up its unique sounds. The ability to hear different phonetic pronunciations is sharpest before age 3, and we lose the capacity to hear and produce certain sounds if we aren't exposed to them early on.  Some easy ways to introduce the language (if you don't speak it yourself) are watching childrens tv programmes, flash cards with simple words and playing music in the target language to familiarise your child with it from as early an age as possible.
  • Create a relaxed learning environment. The best way for a child to learn to understand a new language is for them to hear people speaking it fluently, so if there is a second language in the family this is an ideal opportunity. Hearing friends or relatives speak the language will make it much easier for the child to pick up.  If not taking your child to lessons designed for their age group or having a bilingual nanny is a great tool to help them learn the language quickly.
  • Teach 1 word at a time. If you don't want to do formal lessons, you can introduce bilingual basics by pointing out to your child that objects can have two names - one in each language. Young children have a remarkable ability to compartmentalise vocabularies, If you say they Good Morning! or Buongiorno! in the same context they will understand that they are different ways of saying the same thing and as they progress they are able to separate the two vocabularies. As your child learns new words, tell him what they're called in a second language too.
  • Have reasonable expectations. Of course, a child won't learn to speak another language fluently from hearing words, watching videos, or singing songs. But simply being exposed to a language will help them understand phrases when they hear them. So even though you probably won't be having an Italian conversation with your child very soon, if you say "Buona notte" every night at bedtime, they will figure out what you mean.
 For fun, effective Italian lessons for children in the Newcastle and Northumberland area tailored to your or your child's needs with a fully CRB checked female tutor see Cherubini Italian Lessons 
For Italian lessons in Newcastle upon Tyne click HERE
For Italian lessons in Morpeth and surrounding area click HERE

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