As a Spanish language teacher and linguistics major, I have always been fascinated by the subject of language acquisition. Everybody knows how effortlessly kids learn languages, but do we really know why it is so easy for them? Why is it that a six year old can learn any language in less than a year and is able to speak it with native fluency while it takes some adults an extraordinary amount of time and effort?
The other day I came across the article, Unraveling How Children Become Bilingual So Easily, about how babies and children process and imprint language. Babies as young as a few weeks old are tested by tracking eye gazes with toys or by recording bottle-sucking patterns. Young children are tested using oral and comprehension exercises with drawings and toys. Scientists have determined that all babies are born with the ability
to distinguish the unique set of sounds of any language. As young children, their brains can develop various sets of neural circuits, one set for each language, without getting confused. However, as time goes by, the brain starts tuning out unfamiliar sounds and the ability to learn languages declines after age seven.
The article mentions something that I knew, but that most people don’t know. Young children can learn two languages in the same time it takes them to learn just one. Monolingual and bilingual babies start talking around age one. Bilingual children are not delayed in their speaking abilities, a common misconception.
The best time to learn a foreign language is between birth and age seven. As a huge advocate of the importance of teaching languages to small children, I encourage parents not to miss that wonderful window of language opportunity. Start immersing your child in a second language as soon as possible. Any language is good, but Spanish is one of the most useful.
A great idea for children learning a second language is to have them watch entertaining foreign language DVD’s. In my next blog, I will recommend great DVDs and songs in Spanish.