When it comes to learning new languages, children benefit the most before the age of 10. Up until this point, the brain is much more receptive and still in learning mode, and children are most likely to learn native fluency in another language that isn’t their mother tongue. Learning two or more languages as a child presents multiple benefits, which include developmental, societal and educational. It can also increase opportunities and life and career prospects for them when they are older.
We are living in a modern, diverse, multicultural society, and we are only moving closer together. It’s important that children learn about the world we live in, right through to language learning. And primary schools and KS1 learning need to be more open to, and have the resources available to be able to offer modern languages that go beyond basic French and German.
Children that are bilingual from a young age present a variety of positive cognitive outcomes. These include increased attention and concentration, better memory retention and improved perception. Children who speak more than one language are also more culturally aware and educated.
Children generally start talking at the age of 6 months and older. While between 18 months and 2 years, they start forming sentences and learning sentence structure. Language is not hereditary, the language that the child is exposed to the most, will be the language that they learn the most fluently and become most comfortable with. Exposing them to two or more languages will only ignite their curiosity and interest in language development.
Studies show that language exhibits a critical period when the learning process is optimal. At a young age, children have an astounding ability to absorb information and reproduce the sounds that they hear. Young children also experience less anxiety, when it comes to failing or making mistakes so are more likely to continue with something until they succeed. This makes the learning process smoother and more enjoyable.
Which foreign language is best to learn?
China is the second largest economic power in the world, offering global trade routes and business multiple opportunities, and it’s only growing. In 2016, the US-China Strong foundation said that they aimed for one million US students to be studying Mandarin by 2020.
Things are also rapidly developing in the UK. In 2018, Chinese overtook German among A-level students for the first time, despite a decrease in language choices, while entries for French and Spanish decreased by 8% and 4% respectively.
This growing demand for Mandarin as a second language is due to several factors, but individuals, especially with Brexit looming, are looking for career prospects overseas. And with the growing Chinese economy, it makes sense to learn Mandarin and associated languages to stay ahead of the competition.
Learning Mandarin from an even younger age - both at home, through private lessons or in primary schools KS1 and KS2 levels has been proven to create a strong foundation, eliminating difficulties in learning at a later date, Also, along with the benefits of early learning, it can also open up their career options in both further education and in future careers. As both parents, and teachers, we often put so much pressure on our children and pupils to succeed, right from KS1, right up to A Levels and to degree level. But preparing them with key skills such as Mandarin or opportunities to learn other second languages that they can develop and use beyond academic success, will prove far more important than receiving good grades in skills such as algebra or Shakespeare that they may never use again.
Samantha Duong is the Founder of Little Mandarin Classes, teaching children from 18 months key language skills through storytelling, role play and BSL. The company was founded in 2015 by Samantha after she noticed a lack of Mandarin Chinese classes for non-native Chinese speakers locally in nurseries or schools.
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