As our communities become increasingly diverse, more parents are interested in setting their children on the track for bilingualism. Currently in the United States 58 percent of individuals above the age of five in the United States speak a second, non-English language at home and this number is growing as reported by U.S. Census Bureau. Given the advantages, here are some answers to common questions regarding the early acquisition of a second language.
It’s never too early or too late to start learning a second language, however research found overriding benefits that shift at different ages. The optimal time to start exposure is between birth and three years of age, while the brain is most receptive to nuances of different speech sounds and is establishing a foundation for literacy. Preschoolers are most likely to develop a native accent along with the appropriate intonation and gestures of the language. Children more easily develop a native accent up to age eight. Beyond puberty it may be more difficult to master a native accent, although grammar is better as the language is learned with proficient literacy skills.
Potential Language Delays.
Despite the complexity, preschoolers are adept at sorting two languages without negatively influencing their language development in either language. Some children exposed to two languages may start talking slightly later when compared to their monolingual peers, however this isn’t a general rule. Research shows that even children with a speech delay shouldn’t be restricted to one language, as the processing of two languages isn’t the culprit for the delay.
Parents may be concerned that their child will mix the words and grammar between two languages; rest assured that it’s a completely normal part of developing bilingualism, especially when one language is more dominant. Mixing will decrease as the child develops a larger vocabulary base in each language, however even fluent speakers will use preferred words in one language or the other.
The best way to teach a child a second language is through games, songs, rhymes, and daily activities. Watching television shows or simply hearing the second language isn’t enough since the child needs to interact in the language in meaningful ways in order to assimilate it. As with learning any new skill, practice and consistency are the keys to developing and maintaining new language skills. More ideas are available here.
One of the greatest advantages of exposing your child to another language is that it broadens his perspective of the world, different cultures, and people. Not only does a child build a valuable skill that will serve him into adulthood, it’s shown that children who speak more than one language demonstrate positive spill-over effects in other subject areas that involve logic, concentration, and a more diversified set of mental abilities, enhancing creativity. Take the first steps early and your child may say, “Danke! ¡Gracias! Merci! Shukria! Shukran!” to thank you for your efforts.
– Mehreen Kakwan, M.A., CFY-SLP, a pediatric speech pathologist with Beaumont Health System
Milne, Rosemary, and Priscilla Clarke. Bilingual Early Childhood Education in Child Care and Preschool Centres. Commonwealth of Australia: FKA Multicultural Resource Centre, 1993.