The Benefits of Learning Languages Early
Raising a bilingual child can sound daunting at first, but when you start from the very beginning, it’s actually a quite simple process that’s filled with a multitude of lifelong benefits. Below, we’ll look into how kids learn language, why it’s best to start as early as possible, and why learning more than one language is so beneficial for kids.
How Young Children Acquire Language
The way that kids acquire language is a lot simpler than you may think; all they need to do is hear it. Exposure is essential, and repetition is helpful, but all in all, if you or someone in your family speaks to your child in another language often, they will grow up to understand and speak it.
This is the same for young children learning their first language. You don’t have to purposefully teach a baby to talk, for example. You just need to make sure they’re exposed to words and they’ll begin in their own time. When it comes to teaching multiple languages, the acquisition happens the same way.
It is important to ensure that the languages are heard in human interaction, however, as recent studies show that music and television are not efficient in terms of teaching language to kids.
Why Start So Young?
Scholastic.com shares that during the first six years of life, children spend more time learning language than any other skill (and yes, this is the time of life where the most development takes place). Sure, kids also learn how to do other incredible things, from their first roll as an infant to their first ride on a bike as a child. Language acquisition, however, is a constant being built throughout this entire time.
Learning language is a complex activity, but it also comes naturally to young kids. They have a desire to communicate their needs and interact with the people they love most. These desires create the perfect environment for introducing one, or two, or even three or four languages.
Another huge factor in learning languages early is the structure of a young child’s brain. Babies and toddlers, for example, actually soak in words and information without any effort put in on their behalf. If they hear the word, they’ll learn it. If you’ve ever listened to a song or television show in a language you do not speak, you understand that this is far from true in the brain of an adult.
Young children also have the capability to differentiate between sounds that adults do not. For example, if you speak English and you hear /r/ in a Spanish word, it could sound like the English /d/, making the process of learning the Spanish word much more difficult to you.
Babies and young children hear the difference between these sounds. They do not start to lose this ability until they are between 10 and 12 years old, when they start to lose knowledge of sounds that do not have meaning in the language(s) they speak.
The Benefits of Learning Languages Early
The most obvious benefit of learning languages early is, of course, that the child will grow up bi-, tri-, or even quadrilingual without having to put any effort in on their own part. However, the process and effects of learning languages early come with many more incredible positive results.
Some of the best benefits include:
A Stronger Cultural Identity:
When kids learn the language of both of their parents, they are more likely to form ties with both cultures, even if they are only experiencing one firsthand.
Improved Social Skills: Learning two languages increases communication skills, which is linked to a better ability to empathize with the people around them. This may not only allow kids to make deeper connections with friends, but also give them a better understanding of the world we live in and the other cultures it is filled with.
Better Brain Health: Bilingual brains work harder; and this heightened brain activity is linked to decreases in dementia cases and increases in the ability to recover from potential strokes.
More Job Opportunities: As kids grow up, speaking more than one language increases their job opportunities significantly.
Teaching your baby (or older child) another language is one of the best gifts you can give. All you have to do is speak to your child in another language often and their small, absorbent brains will pick up the skills themselves, gaining these incredible benefits (and more) along the way.