24 Jun Why is early bilingual immersion important for language learning?
During my time at school we were always pressured into learning other European languages as they were seen as vital for our future in the workplace. I was taught French from 9 years old and it was always enforced on us that employers see bilinguals and multilinguals as huge assets to their company and that language learning was a compulsory part of education.
Today, it’s a slightly different story, with major cuts in language departments from schools through to universities throughout the UK. It’s a great shame for language learning to be the first area to be affected by cutbacks in many educational establishments, especially as the passion my language teachers and lecturers displayed rubbed off on me and are a massive part of who I am and where I am today. It is incomprehensive that one minute we are being told of the importance of language learning and the next minute being told that it is in fact the least important subject area when it comes to cutbacks. I find it even more frustrating when I look at other subjects, where skills can be picked up a lot faster than the process of second language acquisition. Don’t even get me started on the significance of the ‘critical period’.
Today, the majority of the world’s population is bilingual, or multilingual, which means that the United Kingdom is far from being the multilingual society that so many of our competitors are, and pushing language learning to one side from an early age will potentially have consequences in the future. Even being exposed to a second language at secondary level becomes much more of a task, as research has shown that children are much more likely to learn a third language if they begin early. Cross cultural communication is so important in a society where multiculturalism is in abundance and travelling and working abroad is very much the norm.
Cognitive advantages of child bilingualism
Apart from being able to communicate with a whole new culture, past research shows that bilinguals are able to process information quicker and are able to manage a variety of tasks at the same time better than monolinguals, due to their ability to inhibit using one language for another. A child can also pick up patterns far more easily than a teenager or an adult, thus creating mental flexibility, so it is vital these opportunities are not just offered, but are offered from an early age to ensure that critical period in language acquisition is targeted. Bilingual children are more willing and able to learn a third language, and show an increased analytical orientation to language, something which is a highly sought after skill in the workplace.
There have been a number of studies where bilingual children have been found to understand the relationship of letters and sounds, whilst monolinguals of the same age tend to treat letters and sounds as visual objects. This enables clearer signalling for all other aspects of the learning process. Another factor to take into account is that growing up bilingually does not just have a positive effect on the learning process as a child, but speaking more than one language is said to delay the onset of illnesses such as Alzheimers and dementia too as it keeps the brain functioning.
Bilingual immersion from as young as 7 months can have a positive effect on future cultural adjustments that may occur in the child’s life, thus making integration far easier and building a sensitivity towards other cultures, which is so important when we grow up in a multicultural society. It supports children in making new friends and being open to diversity. The listening skills brought on with bilingualism are above and beyond those of monolinguals as the bilingual is more aware of the needs of the listener, something invaluable in all aspects of life.
If you are also as passionate as I am about second language learning and the positive effects early immersion can have on our children, then please read about our popular Planet Veritas Academy, which offers the opportunity to kick start the language learning process for children from the ages of 5-7 years, through exciting and entertaining methods.