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The Benefits of Second Language Acquisition in Early Childhood

By Rebecca M. Solomon, Ph.D

In our increasingly diverse society, there is a growing appreciation of the value of speaking more than one language. Opening one’s mind to learning about and embracing other languages and cultures can bring rich rewards. Anyone who speaks a second language can communicate with greater numbers of people, expanding their educational, professional, and social opportunities. Helping our children learn a second language is a great way to prepare them to succeed in every aspect of their adult lives.

There are also many benefits that children can reap when they learn a second language. A number of research studies have shown that children who have learned a second language at a young age demonstrate cognitive advantages, such as increased problem-solving skills and creativity. Children also develop an interest in and curiosity about different cultures and ideas when they have a foundation in other languages. This makes them more comfortable growing up in our increasingly global society, where languages and cultures intersect every day.

While children of every age benefit from learning a second language, research studies particularly support starting bilingual education at the preschool level. Very young children readily learn through play-like activities. They are less self-conscious than older learners, and are willing to try out newly acquired language skills without fear of embarrassment. Children at this age are also better at mimicking new sounds and adopting pronunciation than are older learners. Clearly, students will reap the most benefits when they begin bilingual education early in their lives.

At The Learning Experience, all students at the Preschool level participate in our L.E.A.P. Into Foreign Languages® program. Each of our centers offers either L.E.A.P. into Spanish® or L.E.A.P. into Mandarin®. Each foreign language curriculum balances fun with learning, as children are led on their language learning journeys by an engaging mascot. Language learning is made easier and more interesting by the infusion of the cultural aspects of each language as well.

L.E.A.P. into Spanish features an introduction to the Spanish language and culture through a variety of activities, including games, art, and songs. Students, led by Tito ToroTM, receive a passport that they fill in as they learn about the geography and cultures of several Spanish-speaking countries. A Spanish language environment rich in illustration and print supports their language learning.

In L.E.A.P. into Mandarin, Ping PandaTM is the children’s guide through the culture and language of China. She leads students through fun and engaging songs, stories, and games. In addition to vocabulary and print, Ping the Panda also helps teach students about Chinese celebrations throughout the year. Children enjoy celebrating the Moon Festival, the Duanwu Festival, and more as part of their active language learning. 

Whether a child at TLE is learning Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, materials are provided to parents to enable them to support their child’s foreign language learning at home. There are also a number of things that parents can do at home to promote second language acquisition in their child. Here are a few suggestions:

·         Create a casual learning environment. The best way for a child to learn to understand a new language is to hear it being spoken regularly. Find television shows, books, CDs, restaurants, and other means of exposing your child to the second language on a regular, frequent basis. Visit a community where the language is spoken. 

·         Teach through repetition. Children learn through repetition and active engagement with another language. If you and your child do an activity together, do the same thing next time in the second language. For example, if you are baking a cake together, the first time you would emphasize the names of the ingredients in English (or your home language). Later, you could do the same activity and express the same words in the second language.

·         Use physical demonstrations. Pairing nonverbal communication with vocabulary words helps students understand language. An expressive gesture, facial expression, or other physical demonstration can help children comprehend and remember language terms.

·         Make it fun! Whether you choose to read books, play music, or travel to another country, keeping children engaged is the key to keeping them interested in learning. If a child has positive experiences he or she can become quite receptive to learning about another language, 

It is clear that second language study offers many advantages for students in terms of improved communicative ability, cognitive development, and cultural awareness. Society as a whole also benefits, as these children will grow to become caring global citizens who can communicate with and appreciate people from other countries and cultures. It’s never too soon to start your child on the path of second language acquisition, so start today!

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