Research abounds about the benefits of bilingualism: the more exposure to languages from as early an age as possible is the best. Being that our brains are still growing and developing rapidly when we are young, multiple languages can be assimilated as seamlessly as a single language at this age. Some research even goes as far as defining optimal age limits within which languages should be learned for greatest benefits, primarily for picking up a native-like accent. However, experts enthusiastically agree that it is never too late to learn a language and to learn it well.
Not all children will have the opportunity to be exposed to multiple languages in their childhood. They may not grow up with parents who speak another language at home. They may not have the benefits of attending a bilingual school. However, just because our children may not benefit from delayed Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean that even a small amount of language exposure isn’t beneficial in a number of ways. In fact, the small amount of language and cultural exposure children receive in their early years may have the most lasting impact.
Below are 5 reasons why you should expose your students and children to languages and cultures, even if only in small amounts:
- Language is power: Mastering even a few words in a new language can be tremendously empowering for children. It opens up a whole new world about languages that wasn’t there before. Being able to share newly learned words with family and friends is exciting, as is the fact that children now have words in a language that they know and others may not.
- Cultural similarities: Learning about how other cultures are similar to us is the first step in appreciating our global interconnectedness. It doesn’t take much for a child to feel connected with children on the other side of the world even though they speak another language and dress differently: They laugh, cry, dance, sing and play just like us. They are sad when their toy breaks and delight in a bedtime story. This realization is a big eye-opener to children who have had little exposure to other cultures.
- Languages are fun: Making language exposure meaningful for children is key to getting them excited and involved in learning it. Bombarding children with hours of vocabulary will have less impact than introducing them to a few words within a rich cultural context. Get children excited about language and culture through pictures, dance, songs and more. Introduce meaningful, targeted words within each of these contexts.
- Cultural appreciation: Share the most beautiful aspects of languages and cultures with your children and students. Instill them with a fascination and appreciation that goes deep by sharing images of unique landscapes, songs that are easy to learn and have a fun beat, stories that captivate the imagination, and traditional costumes that bring a culture to life. Choose words that reinforce the beauty of the language and culture so that children are left with a true appreciation of the world around them.
- Linguistic realization: Teaching children words from another language actually helps them appreciate and understand the workings of languages in general, their own native language included! When a child learns the word for “run” in another language she will compare it with that same word in her own language. This starts a process whereby children will start to realize that languages have structures and consistencies. Don’t burden children with linguistic rules at a very young age. Let them come to realize these elements on their own.
Exposing children to languages and cultures provides the beginnings of a framework which will be built upon over a lifetime. Every little bit of exposure will have some kind of impact on our children and students. The key is finding ways to make this impact as positive and long-lasting as possible. Down the road children will be able to take the additional steps needed to master the languages that they choose. The bits of language exposure now will be the inspiration to make this happen.
Photo Credit: Emily Jones
What are some ways that you expose your children and students to small amounts of language and culture in your home or classroom?
One thought on “Learning Foreign Languages: 5 Reasons Why a Small Amount of Language Exposure Is Beneficial”
What a great way to start the day. An opportunity to receive bilingual books for free! I have a grandson that was adopted from Korea and his parents want him to know Korean as well as English and French. The Children’s bilingual books are great!