Why is it important to learn new languages from an early age?
Learning a new language is daunting at the best of times, unless you are like myself and take it as a challenge, to improve your own skills and to develop your own personal being. Most people you talk to will say that it is easy for children, but have you ever wondered why??
Babies and children mimic adults as a way of learning, what else can they do?? At nursery school learning skills are based on “show and learn” “copying skills” “do as I do” etc., developing language skills is exactly the same regardless of the age.
I teach english to primary students from the age of 7 through to 11 in a french school, I use very primitive methods of learning, I literally start the children off as though they are babies, which is logic as it is an initiation into a new language.
7 years of learning your own language is enormous in the life of somebody, listen to any 7 year old talk and take a mental note of the amount of vocabularly learnt in that space of time.
Using dvd’s aimed at the younger age group stimulates the students, they do not find it “babyish” because they are too busy listening to the difference in tonality of the english voices.
We use stickers, pens, papers, coloured pencils, building blocks – anything that will stimulate the younger mind – learning has to remain fun so as not to become boring.
7 is a difficult age to start to learn and in my view it is not early enough, children in Holland learn english from the age of 4, hence the reason why most dutch people speak fluent english. English is taught alongside Maths, History and Geography, no particularly attention is paid to the subject, it is just part of the curriculum!!
At the age of 7 the face muscles become “stiff”, pronoucing new sounds that don’t exist in certain languages becomes difficult.
In France the sound “th” does not exist, that is why often you hear television presenters say “ze”, the concept of using the tongue to produce the sound “th” has never been developed therefore the muscles and the brain do not communicate to produce this sound.
It takes at least 3 weeks of practise to perfect this sound and then it is not natural so easy to slip back into the “ze”. In everyday use it doesn’t matter, but when a child loses marks for pronunciation in exams in becomes very important.
The sound “r” as it is pronounced in english is pronounced systematically as a “w” when presented to a french child, the colour “red” becomes “wed”, hence the importance to develop language skills at a very early age.
If you ask a 3 year old to say “red” they say “red”, ask a 7 year old and automatically they repeat “wed”. As a language teacher I have spent many a moment in studying the children’s mouths and watching my own mouth in the mirror in order to understand the differences and the difficulties.
Many people say that it is easy when you are a child, this is one of the major reasons why, you don’t have to worry about forming the right position with your mouth and even when you do know you have to, you don’t have to worry about whether you can or not.
A child’s brain is a sponge – we have often heard this said. In fact a child’s brain has a lot more “empty” space, therefore things are more easily absorbed.
A child finds it easier to class information, to seperate into categories and remember things as and when needed.
Adults take on board information, their brains do not have the same facility in “filing” new information and often file it away in the wrong place – how often to we have to “rack our brains” to find that name or phone number or where we put the car keys! If the remote control goes missing at home I often ask our 5 year old, she inevitably remembers where it was last seen, ask our teenagers and they have no idea!!
To learn a new language as an adult is not always difficult, I myself found learning french fairly easy but then again I was very open to the idea and allowed my brain the time and the space to class the information as and when needed.
Associating the language to situations helped a lot and infact this comes back to a child’s teaching – look and learn. Adopting the same attitude as an adult helps.
The earlier that you can teach yourself and your children a new language the better, it doesn’t have to be complicated, odd words, picture dictionnaires, holidays in foreign countries (take the phrase book), books, dvd’s, computer games, these days there are no end of “aids” on the market, including internet to help.