What age is the best for a child to start learning foreign languages?
Most modern parents would like their children to study a foreign language. Demand creates supply, so it is not surprising that the number of schools, courses and clubs teaching foreign languages is increasing nowadays. This trend has also effected the young: in many daycare centers and early development schools learning a foreign language is of great importance. And for parents the presence of a foreign language in the educational program often plays almost a decisive role. But how effective is this early learning? What is its benefit or perhaps harm?
It is believed that there is so-called ‘critical age’ for mastering a language (any, not just foreign), for developing adequate language skills. These are the years when a child best learns vocabulary, language structures, practices to express his opinions as accurately as possible. According to various studies it is the childhood which is considered to be this age – from junior school age to puberty, that is approximately from 2 to 12 years. Moreover, the ‘critical age’ includes a shorter period of time which is even more important for developing speech – it is the infancy from 2 to 4 years.
Yet being a baby the child is able to distinguish the sounds of the mother tongue from a foreign one. In the period from 2 to 4 years a child masters a language most intensively because his brain develops very rapidly as well. Not only the speaking base is formed but also so-called mental code sinks through his native language. For this reason, many researchers believe that at this age – from 2 to 4 – there is no need to include active learning of any foreign language. After all, it might lead to a kind of ‘failure’ linguistically as well as psychologically. Exceptions are presented by bilinguals – when a child from the cradle is constantly being under the influence of two languages, therefore he perceives none of them as foreign. Thus and so, it’s better to limit early foreign language learning to the kid's familiarizing with it. For example, the child will be interested to know how his favorite cartoon hero is called in his own language. However, intensive foreign language learning is worth putting on a back burner.
Sure enough, opinions differ on language learning. Proponents of early foreign language learning assert that the earlier a child starts, the more he achieves while making less effort. There is certain logic behind this. However, the best foreign language mastery is allegedly achieved due to the fact that children who start earlier can make it more. According to many experts, the progress of young polyglots is not likely a result of better absorption associated with an early age.
The scientists who investigated the matter mostly believe that introducing a foreign language is justifiably best delivered from the age of 5-7. This view is reflected by the European system of education when children start learning foreign languages at 6-7 years old.
If there is no emergency, then learning a foreign language can (sometimes even better) be postponed to 11-13 years of age. In this case, the child has already formed the linguistic ties which he will be drawing on in his studies. On the other hand you should consider the following factors. The earlier a child begins learning a foreign language, the higher quality his pronunciation will be, because little ones have the best-developed ability to imitate sounds. Besides, it’s easier for a little child to start speaking, because he still doesn’t identify himself with a particular culture. Teenagers and adults speaking in a foreign language often feel discombobulated, like a fish out of water as if they were playing someone else's role. Because of this to overcome the language barrier can be fairly difficult for them despite the language level.
In general, having sufficient motivation one can start and successfully learn a foreign language anytime. So, study to your heart’s content!