We already know that England is behind many other countries when it comes to learning languages from a young age. After speaking to many people about bilingual children and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of speaking the languages at a young age, I decided to start some of my own research into how language learning and indeed a second language can help improve your child’s ability to progress in many areas later in life.
Young children can struggle when trying to develop their own language skills, however, I am reading more and more about encouraging children to take a second language as early as possible. Many studies repeat how important it is to start young and that even during pregnancy speaking in another a language whilst the baby is in the womb can have benefits as the unborn baby can hear a variety of sounds and this is good preparation for them.
The most recent website that I have come across is called best start.org and explains just how beneficial it is for children who live in multilingual families to be taught young and for it to be consistent throughout their developing years. Children can be extremely resilient and through their listening skills and communication skills they can understand and absorb a vast quantity of information.
Personally, teaching languages in nurseries is very rewarding, but the first few classes can be difficult sometimes because some children will not be willing to speak to you. However, within three to four weeks, you can see the progress as children remember certain vocabulary that have been taught and others surprise you by starting to count independently before you have reached the next number. This, for me as a teacher, helps to provide evidence for people who are unsure of very young children taking on two languages. But as the quote on Best start.org explains, if you are not a linguist yourself, then do not attempt teaching languages to children at home on a regular basis, take them to a nursery that offers the skill.
“Learning two languages at home does not cause confusion or a language problem in young children. But, remember that children need to hear and practice speaking each language often to be good at it. Children learn language best from people who speak that language well.”
Children need to learn the first language well and it is far better to learn one than two poorly.
We are very lucky in Great Britain to have such a diversity of language around us and with the new Curriculum we can look forward to British pupils being on par in terms of learning languages as other children all over the world who learn English. My concern and indeed in many educational journals their concern is that in England bilingual children are starting to lose their mother tongue, usually around the age of 13 years old. It can be a gradual loss due to children wanting to converse with their friends in English and communication at home is one sided as their parents continue to speak in the first language but the children will understand them but then answer in English. Unfortunately some schools do not embrace the multilingual pupils nor do they showcase their skills. When reading Joshua Fishman’s article he talks about the competition between weak language and weak cultures being dominated by a stronger one which can have a major effect on the usage of your first language
Interesting materials:-
What Do You Lose When You Lose Your Language? Joshua Fishman http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/jar/SIL/Fishman1.pdf

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