Today is UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day! We spoke with Piña Madera* and Lisa Locklin**, two fabulous instructors who offer classes at our Concord Studio, to learn why children should learn a foreign language. Please read on for our Q & A with Piña and Lisa, and come back next week for part two!

Q: Why do you think it is important to expose children to foreign languages?

Piña: There are so many good reasons to give kids a jump-start on learning multiple languages. Here are just a few:

  • It helps with language and literacy overall.
  • It exposes them to the notion that there are other places where people speak different languages (and as they get older you can naturally introduce new customs), and this opens their mind to things that are different, preparing them for a global reality.
  • It allows them to communicate with people they would otherwise never meet.
  • It increases their future career prospects.

Lisa: A second language enriches and enhances a child’s mental development, and it has a positive effect on intellectual growth. It also leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, a greater sensitivity to language and culture, and a better ear for listening. Studies consistently show, for example, that students who are multilingual perform better on standardized tests.

Q: What are the benefits of introducing children to foreign languages at an early age as opposed to later in life?

Piña: Research has shown that it is actually good for the brain—improving test-taking, handling distraction, math, music and even delaying Alzheimer’s for truly fluent bilinguals

The young brain is uniquely prepared to learn language in the early years. We traditionally introduce languages at the onset of puberty, when we are distracted, highly self-conscious, and risk-averse. Young children are not inhibited about making mistakes, or mispronouncing words, or sounding silly. Teens are. You will be sparing your future teen many embarrassing moments and arduous memorization if you teach them now.

Lisa: Children’s brains are more “open” when younger—they absorb things more quickly. A second language can bring them more confidence. And younger children can adopt a “native-like accent” better than older children. Children understand intuitively that language is something to explore, have fun with and enjoy.

Q: In your experience, what is the best way to get a child excited about learning a new language?

Piña: We have found that giving children language they can use, and conducting their favorite activities in the second language makes for an easy, satisfying transition. Music and silliness is always a great add when teaching kids anything. Incorporate tickling, if possible!

Lisa: By having fun with books, songs, games, attending multicultural events and role-playing.  One of my favorite learning games is making a passport and “flying” to Paris for a visit.

Q: What do you think is the hardest part of mastering a new language?

Piña: Finding a community to practice with can be hard, but worth the hard work. A community can inspire, encourage and help with what is a slow process.

Know, too, that kids develop language through relationships with a loving caregiver…not through videos and apps. It’s great to add media as a support, but studies show that language is learned from loving caregivers much more effectively than from media.

Lisa: For adults, an authentic accent becomes harder and harder as you age, and the nuance of humor is a very difficult aspect of learning a new language. But for a child, a foreign accent and joking is easy. For the youngest children, the hardest part of learning a language is not about the language, but about their ability to listen and focus on the class, and to participate.

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? Please leave a comment below and be sure to come back next week for part two!

*Piña Madera is the Co-founder of Singalingo, Inc. Singalingo, Inc. creates award-winning, song-based materials for teaching young people language (songs, videos, books, and language cards).  Materials are currently available in Spanish and English, with Mandarin coming soon. They also offer classes for children ages 18 months to 6 years in the Boston area, including at the Barefoot Books Studio in Concord.

**Lisa Locklin is a French instructor who has taught and tutored French for several years privately, through the Acton Boxborough Community Education program, and at French in Acton.  She currently offers Mommy & Me French and Fun with French classes at the Concord Studio. She lived in Paris for four years where she worked at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and received her Certificat de Langue Française at the Université de Paris—Sorbonne.

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