Two and a half year-old William is already well on his way to being a world citizen! He and his parents have been taking Mandarin classes since he was just a few months old–learning together. From the outside, having fun is what it’s all about. We know, though, that while he’s playing, there’s a lot going on in his brain.
In the first four years of life, a child’s brain is focused on language acquisition— first on sounds, then grammar, and then vocabulary. The brain forms neural pathways in response to the language it encounters. Studies show that even limited exposure to a second language before the age of one makes a difference in the development of those neural pathways.
But how do these brain changes affect the child? We know that children who are exposed to language early recognize and produce sounds like native speakers. As we get older, this gets more difficult. That is why it helps to start young. A recent University of Oregon study shows that students who start learning in elementary school are 70% more likely to reach competency than those who start in high school.
Other cognitive benefits show up in academic tests. Children who have studied a foreign language scored higher on testing in math and social studies, and even on SATs!
Aside from the cognitive and academic benefits, and the fun they have doing it, learning a second language changes a child’s approach to interacting with people from around the world. They grow up embracing other languages and cultures. They aren’t intimidated by someone who speaks or acts differently. They have the confidence and willingness to understand and appreciate other people and cultures. They are compassionate global citizens, and we need more of them.
Jackie Friedman Mighdoll is the founder of Sponge (www.spongeschool.com), a leader in children’s language education. She has worked internationally and inter-culturally for two decades, and is the mom of two young world citizens.
Sponge is now offering Mandarin, French, Japanese and Spanish classes for children newborn through elementary school, at their new location in Redmond.