Being able to talk in several languages is an important skill to have. The world is shrinking and if you want to do business or build a career in other international organizations you will have to speak at least one foreign language. But is it true that younger people pick up new languages easier? Scientists at the University of Tasmania decided to investigate that.
They looked at 35 children at a long day childcare centre in northern Tasmania. Participants of this study were involved in 20 half-hour lessons over a period of ten weeks. They were also interviewed by staff and parents. In this case scientists were using Vietnamese language, but the findings of this research are likely to be applicable for all the different second language options.
In many countries, the second language is introduced relatively late in the education process – in middle school or even highschool. Scientists have long debated whether it would be beneficial for children to start learning foreign languages much earlier. Now they believe that they have enough evidence to support the idea of teaching a second language to preschool children.
This study showed that 3-5 year old children who were studying Vietnamese have increased their international mindedness. Lessons encouraged children to seek for more information about the Vietnamese culture and were proud about taking these classes. Parents reported that children loved reading English-Vietnamese books, which were included in the course. Some children even started using Vietnamese expressions at home to show off their newly acquired skills.
Part of the interest of this program was that topics included words about morning activities, colours, numbers, action words, toys, foods, animals, cultural symbols. Children learned Vietnamese greetings, picked up reading and singing. Most importantly, children were learning very quickly and were eager to learn more. One of the reasons why some people believe that preschool children should not be learning a new language is the belief that they won’t be interested or motivated. However, this study showed that this is not the case at all.
Dr Vinh To, lead author of the paper, said: “The project has enabled children to explore the world more fully to become ‘confident and involved learners’ and ‘effective communicators. In the long term speaking at least two languages will eventually offer job seekers more opportunities in competitive markets.”
Education system around the world could learn from this. Children from an early age should begin learning new languages. This will expand their horizons and create a skillset that is more suitable for the modern world. This is not to say that older people cannot learn new languages – it is always fun and useful thing to do.
Source: University of Tasmania