When is the best time to learn a language?

We are often asked ‘when is the right time for my child to learn a language?’ and our answer is always a resounding NOW!

Studies into bilingualism in children have revealed that the best time to learn a language is before the age of 7. This is the age where the window for learning a language does start to close and it becomes much harder to learn to speak with native-like proficiency.

There are many reasons why children should learn a language as young as possible, however, did you know that bilingual children have a greater advantage when it comes to mental capacity?

  • Bilinguals score higher on average on tests involving creative thinking or problem-solving. The ability to translate abstract concepts from one language to another also develops the skill to look at tangible problems in more than one abstract way.
  • Early reading skills tend to come more easily to bilingual children. Learning two languages makes them aware of language as a tool they can use rather than a passive part of their environment that they have no control over. This translates into an understanding of language usage — the idea that two words can mean the same thing, for example, or that a single word can be used as different parts of speech depending on context.
  • Early bilingual training increases a child’s ability to focus on mental tasks. The bilingual experience familiarizes children with the process of puzzling out ideas as well as physical surroundings while they are still pre-verbal infants. Later in life that translates into an attentiveness to abstract ideas. Many early school programs focus heavily on abstract reasoning skills, giving bilingual children an early leg up.
  • Bilingual children develop stronger overall skills in their primary language as well as their secondary. Because they have so many ways to communicate, bilingual children sometimes appear to be progressing more slowly in early language development, but bilinguals almost universally end up with a higher level of skill in their dominant language than their monolingual peers.

Will my child get confused when they hear two languages spoken?

Studies now show that this is not something to be concerned about at all. At a very young age, children have the ability to differentiate between the varying ways people speak. From just days after birth, all infants can tell the difference between many languages, this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other – as different, for example, as French and Arabic.

At that young age, infants generally still have trouble telling two very similar languages apart, like English from Dutch. But by about 6 months of age, their brains have developed to a point that they are able to differentiate between the two.

Do bilingual children ever mix their languages up?

It is quite common for children who are raised bilingual to mix up the languages they are learning. Often one language has a stronger influence on a child than the other or a child might have a smaller vocabulary in the minority language and may use words they’re more familiar with as needed.

This is harmless and part of a temporary process that disappears as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages.

Children model what they see and hear, so if your child lives in an environment in which mixing languages is the norm, expecting him not to do so is unrealistic.

What is the best method when teaching a new language?

Kids learn naturally, not by translating: First they hear, then they understand and then they speak. We believe that kids learn languages best when they’re young and that play is the best way to teach them. This is why we build our language playgroups around music, vocabulary-building songs, physical activities, visual aids, language immersion, books, puppetry and games that kids LOVE.

Introducing a second language does require structure and consistency, however the idea is to expose children to meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life. The main thing to keep in mind is to create a positive experience with a new language.