Learning a second language as a child does more than prepare kids for a globalized world; it enriches their mind and social world.
As an adult, trying to learn a second language can be daunting. For children, however, language is child’s play. Babies are born with the ability to make and hear any sounds from any language in the world, and there are more and more studies that show the advantages of learning multiple languages while young. Here in Germany, there are more than ten million foreign national residents, giving plenty of opportunities and reasons to raise bilingual children. And it’s not just about the language. Expatica, explains some of the benefits of bilingual students: They learn to express their thoughts, their ideas and who they are to people in different cultures, and they can understand also the thoughts and ideas of other cultures. Having a common language unites us.
Learning a new language: the importance of starting early
Researchers tend to agree that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language. Naja Ferjan Ramirez, a researcher from the University of Washington, writes on Business Insider: “Children who experience two languages from birth typically become native speakers of both, while adults often struggle with second language learning and rarely attain native-like fluency.” While ‘from birth’ isn’t always possible, young children have surprisingly flexible language abilities; the sooner you introduce them to a second language, the better.
Plus, as Expatica explains, when you learn young, it doesn’t even feel like work. It’s easy for the kids because the language gets introduced through play. Sometimes bilingual schools use pictures, movement, repetition. They act things out, and it’s fun. Children are living the language, as opposed to just hearing it. In other words, getting your kids enrolled in an international school in Germany will have them learning English naturally and playfully, rather than the books and homework of later years.
Babies: the best learning machines ever created
Some parents might wonder: is my child too young to learn another language? Won’t she or he be confused? Well, in short, no and no. In a recent report from the University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), Patricia Kuhl writes: “Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning machines ever created, and that infants’ learning is time-sensitive.” Babies’ brains are highly adaptive, so when it comes to learning a language, the younger, the better.
The advantages to early English-language education in Germany
Beyond the communication and integration reasons mentioned above, there are a lot of reasons to get your kids in bilingual English-German education programs.
Becoming bilingual at an early age:
- Improves executive functioning of the brain. That is, they are able to shift attention, switch between tasks and solve problems more easily.
- Helps develop their ‘theory of mind’, which essentially means they can better understand another person’s perspective
- Has protective effects against cognitive decline with ageing and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease
… and more. Research continues, but it’s not all about the science. When a student is able to explore the world and discover in two languages, when they can converse with others who might not be from their cultural background, it just opens so many doors for them.
Get the most out of a bilingual education
Of course, you want to feel comfortable with the program in which you place your kids, and the impact that it has on your home life. Here are some tips:
Find a program that offers concentrated immersion time to properly live and speak with the languages:
- Encourage them to practice it home. It can be a challenge for kids to find authentic experiences in which to use their new language skills. Let them see that language studies aren’t just something for school – they’re for living, too.
- Learn along with them! This is particularly helpful if your kids are learning a language you don’t know, and you can turn it into a shared activity. But even if that’s not the case, you can still study with them. Chances are, if it’s a language you know well, you might never have learned all the grammar rules to help you explain why something is said in one way and not another.
When speaking with various international schools in Germany, or elsewhere in the world, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out why they’re using a given methodology, and what are its benefits. Ask about the social support, and make sure that they’re able to offer individual support where needed.