As a bilingual English/Spanish librarian, I often hear from adults that they studied Spanish in high school, but they remember very little from those days. It makes perfect sense when you look at brain development. When babies are born, about 15% of their brains have developed. By the time a child is 3, 85% of the brain has developed.
Researchers have found that by 6 months old, babies are already showing a preference for a certain language. Baby brains are wiring to the rhythms and sounds they hear from their families, caregivers and community. More studies go on to say that the best window of opportunity to learn a second (or third, or fourth...) language is between 0-7 years old.
Learning another language by the time we reach middle or high school can be too late!
Our corpus collosums (the part of the brain that connects the left and right side of the brain) grow harder as we age. Connections from one side to the other are no longer as quick as they are in young children when the corpus collosum is soft and malleable. Learning new things becomes more difficult. And, as we get older, we learn more and more information. Our brain starts pruning away at unused information. Ever hear the phrase 'Use it or lose it'? That's what our brain is constantly doing; trimming away at what it doesn't see as useful to us any more.
So why teach a child another language? For one, it has amazing affects on learning new concepts and problem solving! People who know more than one language can quite literally think 'outside the box' more readily than a monolingual or one language speaker. That's because they already think in different languages or in more than one way!
Also, younger learners can learn how to produce the native sounds of another language much easier than older learners. Think of the early wiring to language sounds as babies and the pruning the brain does as we age. When we are young, the brain is activated to learn as much as it can, including how to form sounds with our mouths and tongues. For example, as children, if we don't have an experience rolling an 'rrrr' (I used to mimic my cat's purring), we will have a difficult time later in life trying to learn how to do it. The brain is more open to learning how to produce sounds during the early years or this critical period in its development. Wow! As a former preschool teacher, this stuff facinates me!
Here's an easy book in English and Spanish with bright pictures of familiar foods to check out:
Over the next few months, I will be exploring more about second language learning and sharing ideas on teaching your child another language---even if you don't know another language yourself!
If you're looking for ideas or want to get started right away, come to Bilingual (English/Spanish) story times or ASL (American Sign Language) story times at Belmar Library!
Carrot photo credit: www.alternativa-verde.com