Giving Your Child The Gift of a Second Language: Guest Post
In the evolving and sometimes depressed current economy it’s hard for parents not to worry about their child’s future. What will jobs look like 10, 20, even 30 years from now? What are the best ways to nurture creativity and resilience? How do you give your child a competitive edge?
One of the greatest tools for children is language. Acquiring a second language early on makes a lot of sense. It is unlikely that the economy will stay terrible forever – but if current trends continue, children are likely to enter a cut-throat workforce. A good education is crucial in preparing children for survival in that economic jungle of the future.
The existence of a diverse, global society seems to be a trend that is going to stick. This is clear in both the U.S. and Canada. The “melting pot” has been an interesting theory, but has not happened in practice. On the contrary, most major population centers in both countries have become more of an ethnic and linguistic checkerboard; Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese speakers represent some of the fastest-growing segments of the immigrant U.S. population.
French is the official second language of Canada and, while enrollment is on a steady decline at home schools throughout Ontario, French immersion has experienced constant growth. Wisdom, traditionally, has been to start teaching a second language in middle school, or even high school. However, numerous studies clearly demonstrate that the optimal period in a child’s life for multilingual education is during the preschool years – at exactly the same time they are learning their first language. Yes, it is possible to learn a second and third language later in life, but it is more difficult, because that neurological “window of opportunity” – when the brain is most malleable – has passed. Dr. Fred Genessee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal believes it’s as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. He’s not alone; educators throughout the world (in countries that often have two or even three official languages) have understood this for decades.
The optimum way for a child to learn a second language is by actually speaking it in a total immersion environment. You may recall an episode of the animated series The Simpsons in which young Bart gets trapped on a farm in France – and by the end of the episode, finds he’s actually speaking the language. While this was a fictional scenario, the phenomenon is real; anyone who has taken young children abroad to stay with relatives in a foreign country for any length of time has observed this happening. Enrollment in a preschool program that offers immersion in other languages is the best way to get your child started. This investment will make him/her much more competitive in the job market later on.
Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Atlanta day care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of day care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.