Why Learning A Second Language Can Set A Child Up For Life

Did you know that there can be significant advantages to a child learning a second language at an early age?

Learning a foreign language opens up a world of cognitive and social benefits for a child which can continue throughout their lives.  And while many adults may struggle to grasp a new language, it’s surprisingly easy for young children.

The benefits to bilingual children include:

  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Better concentration and focus
  • Better academic achievement
  • Increased critical thinking skills
  • More divergent thinking
  • Improved memory skills
  • Expanded vocabulary and use of grammar     
  • More positive attitudes to cultural differences

Learning a second language gives a child a head-start in life

Children’s brains are at their most flexible between the ages of 0-5 and up until the age of eight, their ear and speech muscles are at their most flexible too, making the early years an ideal time for them to learn a second language.

Young children are also like sponges, soaking up information and mimicking what they see and hear.   This cognitive flexibility and the ability to absorb new information subconsciously is the perfect platform for young children to master a language other than their mother tongue.

And this isn’t just hearsay.  There is plenty of science behind early bilingual education for children, including a study by the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab (CLAL) which revealed that children who learned a second language maintained focus better than monolingual children in the face of external distractions.  This ability to ‘tune out’ is a really important skill and can be a significant contributor to children’s academic achievement.

Another reason why young children pick up a second language so easily is that they aren’t hindered by the fear of making a mistake or mispronouncing words in the way that an older child or adult might be.  They learn with impunity.

Benefits of learning a second language

Let’s look at the direct correlation of learning a second language at an early age and a child’s all-round healthy growth and development.

Improved focus and concentration

When a young child is learning multiple languages, these ‘compete’ for attention within a child’s brain.  The child’s brain has to learn to resolve this internal conflict, switch from one language to another, learn how to prioritise information and ignore distractions.  By exercising the part of the brain that is responsible for selective cognitive processes, the child is able to improve their ability to focus and concentrate - even when there’s lots of stimuli going on around them.

Cognitive development   

Cognitive skills are the core skills that your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention. Cognitive development is vital for a child’s academic achievement which is why learning a second language can be beneficial.  It helps boost their memory, concentration and listening skills, while also improving their ability to multitask, plan, think critically and solve complex problems.

Greater cultural awareness

When a child is exposed to another language, they’re also introduced to a different culture.  This helps them to see the world from different perspectives and instils a more positive, more tolerant and more empathetic approach to our diverse society. 

Piques their curiosity

Children are born with an innate sense of curiosity and learning another language opens up a world of opportunity for them to explore and discover new things about the world they’re in.  You might be interested in this article on the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy which discusses how this approach nurtures and feeds this natural desire to learn.

Stimulates their creativity

Foreign language learning also increases a young child’s creativity and ability to solve problems.  When they’re learning a new language - or trying to master a number of languages simultaneously - their brains experience a constant workout. 

The second language doesn’t have to be taught at home

If you’re a single language home, don’t think that your young child can’t become bilingual.  It is very possible for children to learn an additional language outside of the home as long as they are given plenty of support and encouragement and have frequent opportunities to engage with, and experience, the language being learnt.

A last word on the advantages of children learning a second language

While it’s never too late to learn a new language, the earlier someone starts, the better. 

All the extra work that the young brain does to learn a new language has benefits far beyond just linguistic ability.  Learning a new language helps with all-round cognitive and social development which is why it can put your child at a significant advantage in the critical early years as well as later on in life. If you’re looking for high-quality early education for your little one which focuses on promoting knowledge and inspiring a life-long love of learning in a safe and nurturing environment, we invite you to have a chat with our friendly team or book a tour of one of our Evoke Early Learning childcare centres in Clayton or Albert Park.

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