Here are the benefits of learning a second language at an early age
21 November 2018| Last updated on 21 November 2018
Myriam Chebbi, Head of Languages at MindChamps Nursery Al Safa, is an experienced Early Years Educator and fluent speaker of 3 languages. As an expert in the field of early language acquisition, Myriam explains the benefits and best approaches to second language learning in early childhood.
After more than 20 years of expatriation in the Emirates, I quickly realized, by talking with parents, that the question of bilingualism in the life of an expatriate family was central and sometimes a source of many worries. For my part, I come from a culture where children learn two languages by total immersion very early and the transition from one language to another is carried out in a natural way.
At MindChamps Nursery, we believe that every child should have access to bilingualism through their early years' education. The social and cultural benefits are clear and through our extensive research into early childhood brain development, we understand the incredible cognitive benefits to early bilingualism also.
What are the Advantages of Early Bilingualism?
In a globalized world, early bilingualism is a real asset for children, not only culturally but also from a social and cognitive perspective. It allows the child to develop a mental flexibility, a better understanding of his environment, and a reactivity of the brain.
The bilingual child's brain develops simultaneous connections (synapses) between multiple representations of objects in two different languages. The stimulation of the brain through early bilingualism refines the child’s cognitive skills; enhancing their concentration and problem-solving.
Bilingual children also enjoy social and cultural benefits that monolingual children may not. Bilingual children are often more comfortable in a multicultural environment and are more tolerant and open to people, different cultures and languages. At Mindchamps Nursery, we nurture the art of living together and being open to other cultures, seeing the beauty in others, with students and teachers of different nationalities and varied cultures.
When to Introduce a Second Language:
It is best to introduce additional languages very early so that the process is a very natural one. The sooner the child is exposed to a foreign language, the easier learning will be, due to the plasticity of the young brain. Even pre-verbal children are listening and learning new words and will benefit from language immersion.
For this reason, we introduce the second language very early at MindChamps Nursery, in the Toddlers Class (for 1-2 year olds).
Why So Early?
Until the age of around 7 years, children are “linguistic geniuses”; thereafter, there is a decline. The child's brain reaches a maturation that no longer allows it to learn intuitively.
In early childhood, the child has predispositions on the linguistic, social and neurological level that will make it easier to learn a new language. He or she is tremendously predisposed to learning oral language. Amazingly, even as a fetus in the womb of his mother, the child can recognize the voices and make out the difference between his or her Father and Mother’s voice.
The young child has a social predisposition as well; he is attracted by the faces, the movements, and has a capacity of imitation very early. This natural interest and engagement support language acquisition greatly.
He or she also has neurological predispositions. The structures of the young child’s brain are so flexible at this age that he has the ability to easily learn several languages. It is therefore advisable to teach a new language between birth and 7, the age range during which the brain structures are the most flexible.
How to Start
We should celebrate the opportunities provided to us by living in the incredible multi-cultural and multi-lingual city of Dubai. This is already an enormous advantage for your child’s early bilingualism. When selecting a nursery for your child, find out how the curriculum and staff will support your child’s early bilingualism. This will make a huge difference as approaches differ considerably. A weekly, or even biweekly lesson, will not be enough, instead, short daily sessions using an immersive programme is advisable.”
The choice of learning environment is very important because it is there that your child will have his or her first experiences of an additional language. At MindChamps Nursery, teaching a second language occupies a prominent place in the curriculum; every day the children are exposed to the second language during the language sessions. Parents can select French or Arabic, depending on their own preferences, and the child will receive fun language sessions featuring music, story-telling, and enquiry-based activities, in keeping with the broader MindChamps curriculum.
At MindChamps, the primary objective is not only to learn vocabulary; it is also to speak in different contexts, to hear it and to be immersed. The teaching is organic and gradual with the child learning through positive experiences e.g. using theatrical play, through cookery sessions, using puppetry, music, and storytelling. We create the right environment to stimulate curiosity and exploration.
True bilingualism cannot be taught in an academic way, it must be lived, experienced, consistently and regularly. At MindChamps, we believe that ‘education is theatre’ and we also use this philosophy for language learning. Our primary goal is to give children a taste of languages at a young age by performing roles and encouraging curiosity through play, and fun activities for a perfect acquisition of an additional language.
Pace of Language Acquisition
Each child comes from a different background, has his or her own abilities and potential and will progress at his or her own pace. From my own experience, as a mother of twins, I really came to understand this. My twins had different learning levels of their second language even though they lived under the same roof and went to the same nursery and school. The fact is, they were and are very different people, however, both are now bilingual adults who enjoy the wonderful benefits this brings.
At MindChamps Nursery we believe that early bilingualism is a lifetime’s gift that we can give to our children, but as every gift, it must be adapted to the one who receives it, and prepared with creativity and offered with a smile.