Can every child become a polyglot?
The natural predisposition of our brains to develop and adapt during early childhood is not necessarily a sufficient reason to force your children to become polyglots. Of course, there is nothing wrong with introducing a second foreign language to your child as early as possible. However, remember that you must not force anyone to study. If you do that, you will cause yourself and your little student more problems than it’s worth.
Learning Spanish or any other language, like any other household duty, can be discouraging for children. At the beginning of the adventure with a second language, watch your children. See how they react to courses and games. If you see a lot of reluctance and stubbornness, give your children time. It’s not only the toddlers who get used to a language before they start crawling that become polyglots. The truth is that patience and consistency in learning work best, just like for adults.
How to introduce a second foreign language to a child
Remember that in learning any language, whether it is English, German or Spanish, using a variety of methods is crucial for children.
What is important to care for when starting to learn?
- Make sure that your child is surrounded by the language. Songs and nursery rhymes in a foreign language are a great idea. Let the little ones listen to the sounds. This way, foreign accents will be mastered with greater ease. Make Spanish or Italian a daily reality for your child, even during play time! Surround your child with the language, but remember not to put too much pressure on them.
- Provide your child with various and interesting forms of learning. The younger the student, the faster he or she will get bored and lose concentration. Therefore, when learning, it is important to provide a child with new stimuli and lots of variety. Learning through games and activities is fundamental, but a variety of multimedia courses tailored to different age categories can also help. This type of educational path is offered, for example, by SuperMemo.
- Do not forget about the joy that should come from learning. Dr. Piotr Woźniak – the creator of the SuperMemo method, points out that the pleasure and satisfaction accompanying the acquisition of knowledge are the basis of a good education. The shared joy of learning and success is worth remembering, especially in the context of introducing a second language. Children laugh 400 times a day – adults only a dozen times or so. Do not suppress children’s enthusiasm, because this is a great motivator that gives them the drive to keep learning!
A foreign language for children – how do the youngest learn?
When searching for an answer to the question when to introduce a second language to your child, it is helpful to define the goal you want to achieve. Do you want the child to become bilingual, or is it sufficient that he or she should speak fluent Spanish, French or some other language? If you care about bilingualism, it is worth starting learning before the age of 3, when the toddler can learn simultaneously.Simultaneous learning
Simultaneity concerns the simultaneous learning of two languages. This happens when a child has not yet mastered one language, even at a basic level. So a toddler can learn two languages at the same time. In this way, English and, say, Italian will be identical tools for a child. This form of learning is common in bilingual families, but it is not the only path to bilingualism.Follow-up learning
This is a traditional learning model, otherwise known as sequential learning. It consists in introducing a second language to a child when they have already mastered one to a degree that allows basic communication – usually after the age of 3. By learning foreign languages in this way, children may become fluent in them, but they will no longer be truly bilingual.
Child brain development and the introduction of a second language
The decision about when to start introducing a second language to your child should be linked to the stages of their brain development:
- First month – nerve connections begin to form rapidly (up to 3 billion per second).
- The first six months – a child is able to hear and recognize about 800 sounds that are used in all the languages known to us. Later, this sensitivity decreases. Your child becomes a monolingual specialist (if he or she comes from a monolingual family), and this usually involves mastering about 40 sounds that distinguish a given language. Later, this limited collection translates into language learning. Hence the frequent difficulties in imitating accents for people who did not start learning in early childhood.
- 6-8 months – a baby’s brain has approximately 1,000 trillion synaptic connections. After this age, the number of connections begins to decline.
- 12 years – after this stage of development, the basic architecture of the brain is complete. It can be said that until the age of 12, a child’s brain absorbs information and knowledge like a sponge.
Many theorists and linguists, even at the end of the 20th century, were inclined to the theory that learning foreign languages is best started after the age of 12. Of course, older children find it easier to focus, and the effects of their work can be seen faster – hence the popularity of this theory. Today, however, we know that the sooner we start to familiarise a child with a second language, the better. But keep in mind that it cannot be a process forced against a child’s will!
Spanish for kids, or maybe French? Does the choice of language matter?
If you start introducing your child to a second foreign language early enough, with the right methods, consistency and persistence, there is a good chance that they can learn Cantonese just as well as Spanish. When starting education before the age of 3, the choice of language really depends on the parents’ preferences.
Do not be discouraged by the scale of the difficulties. SuperMemo courses offer both popular languages: French, German or Spanish for children, as well as more difficult and less often chosen languages, such as Japanese, Portuguese or Chinese. Each of the courses is adapted to the child’s predisposition and age. With the right help, your children should be able to cope with each course. But remember that little students cannot be overloaded! This rule is also worth applying to adults, too – the most important thing is the regularity of repetitions. It is easier to assimilate material in batches. So remember – not all at once!
No matter what foreign language, or when you start introducing it, learning is always an excellent intellectual exercise. Whether it’s Italian or German, or something more extravagant, the choice is yours.
Better late than never.
Have you heard of neuroplasticity? Thanks to this, the brain is able, for example, to replace the degenerated or damaged nerve connections with new ones. This means that people after a stroke are often able to recover. Of course, this only happens thanks to persistent and long-term brain training. Neuroplasticity also offers the opportunity to learn a language, regardless of age.
So, it is not worth losing your enthusiasm if your children have already crossed the magic barrier of bilingualism, i.e. 3 years of age, and you have not introduced a second language to them yet. Children should be encouraged to take up challenges at any age! It is true that a teenager’s brain is no longer as receptive and plastic as that of a toddler, but it has skills unavailable to the youngest children. It is easier for a teenager to focus and maintain concentration for longer. He or she is able to postpone rewards until later, thanks to which they can pursue their goals with more persistence.
Of course, the earlier you start your adventure with a second language, the more likely your child will become fluent in it. There is the theory that 10,000 hours will lead to mastery in a particular field. It’s not worth getting fixated on that, but certainly, the more you practice, the better the results. Remember, whatever effort you make is better than resting on your laurels.
The parents’ role in introducing a second foreign language to a child
A parent can be a great teacher for a child. It is worth emphasising that you do not need to be fluent in English, German or Spanish to start to familiarise children with a given language. General knowledge about the development of young children is most important. Parents should be aware of what may be harmful to their little ones at any given stage, and what will best stimulate their progress. Such know-how will allow you to be better educators.
Why is a parent an excellent candidate for a teacher? The key element is the trust that the child has in dad and mum. No stranger, especially in the early stages of a baby’s development, will be able to gain his or her trust as much as a parent. It is worth taking advantage of this when starting a second language. Knowing your child’s favourite games can be helpful. Use them to build a bond with your child and expand their language skills.
Of course, the role of teachers comes most easily to parents in bilingual families. A child then learns two languages simultaneously quite naturally. There was a time when it was believed that this could confuse the minds of little ones and make it harder for them to learn. Today, it is hard to imagine a better way to become bilingual.
Enthusiasm and the right approach
Remember that your enthusiasm for learning at the beginning of their adventure with languages will have a large effect on their further education: both at kindergarten and school. Therefore, it is important to use the right materials at the beginning. Today, parents have a huge number of courses, books, interactive games and toys at hand. They are prepared by specialists, so it is worth using them. Finding the perfect method is not necessarily the key to success. We recommend combining several different methods with the addition of patience, and joy in learning. This is the most effective recipe for success we know.