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When is the right time to introduce our children to a second language?

By: Pilar Ayala
Malaga, Spain
Guest Contributor to Chatterfun

Description: 001.jpgIt is well known that small children are sponge-like and they notice and “absorb” new things and aspects of their environment naturally, including new languages. Toddlers and even babies are genetically prepared to learn to speak more than one language; their brain is highly permeable to the surrounding world and soaks up a lot of information.

According to evolutionary psychology experts, once the child has a good enough command of his or her mother tongue to be able to associate a word with its corresponding object (sense and meaning) it’s the right time to start learning a second language; in other words, when our child is five or six years old. Later on could be harder as they are already set in their native tongues.

At these ages children have an amazing ability to imitate phonetics and of course they lack the self awareness that sometimes prevents us adults to attempt new things, and they assimilate new codes and information in a much more easy way.

The brain structures linked to the learning of a language, located in the left hemisphere, seems to develop further in those who study a second language at an early age; this part of our brain is responsible for the hearing and diction, and it’s located in the left hemisphere in those who are right-handed.

Children can memorize two languages simultaneously in the same part of their cerebral cortex, unlike adults, who store a second language in a different area of their brains; furthermore, young kids don’t need to translate their thoughts, they learn the language in a natural and simple way, adjusting to both languages without being confused.

The learning process of a second language will not stand in the way of the learning of the mother tongue, according to psychologist, neurologist and speech therapists. Children are able to learn two languages at the same time.

This learning ability diminishes with age, so it is very important that the learning process starts before the age of seven or eight.

Children of bilingual parents, or of parents with a different a mother tongue, might take longer to start speaking either of the languages (though some experts  don’t agree with this and claim that it depends on the child), but it doesn’t matter how long this process lasts, the good news is that eventually they will be bilingual; they will easily distinguish between intonation and accents and they will end up communicating in both languages effortless and with a perfect pronunciation, naturally and intuitively.

Learning a second language at a young age is very convenient and advantageous: children can improve their social skills and develop a greater creativity, reach a higher concentration level and a better focus, and learn a new culture; it will also be easier for them to learn a third language in the future.