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Languages for Early Years – Friend or foe?

‘Every child deserves the best start in life’. As parents, we would all agree that each and every one of our children deserve nothing less. Thankfully, this is backed up by the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage[1]. Learning, or being exposed to a foreign language at this age, gives our children a real head start and only strengthens their cognitive development.

It is widely known that, developmentally, the critical age for children is between birth and age five. Children develop extremely quickly during this time and this is where experiences have a ‘major impact on their future life chances.’[2]  Exposure to languages is of the utmost importance at this stage. Our children are so open-minded with very limited inhibitions, if any at all. As parents who want to give our children the very best start in life, we must take advantage of the fact that starting now, our children will never know any different. They will have few questions about the whys and wherefores which therefore enables us to make the most of their sponge-like brain capacity.

Exposing our children to foreign languages during this period provides a high quality early learning experience that will contribute to providing the foundation needed to make the most of their abilities and talents as they grow up.

We want our children to remain open-minded, to have tolerance and an understanding of the world. We want our children to have the best opportunities in their futures, to develop a broad knowledge and develop skills that not every child will have. We really want our children to be the best they can be. Better than us, better than their peers, the best there is. The only way we can truly do this is expose them to as many different experiences as possible.  Having a knowledge and competency in a foreign language is a skill that is valuable in everyday life, for personal development and in the workforce. By starting young, our children will naturally be accepting and much more likely to continue as they grow older.

As parents, our expectations have to be realistic also. Our children may not understand the foreign language as quickly as we may like but by persevering, we are not only developing their communication and language skills in the foreign language, but in their own as well. They will subconsciously make links and connections, realise differences and this will only improve acquisition in English as well as the second language.

Due to being uninhibited and more open to new cultures and concepts, they will reproduce foreign sounds more readily and achieve better pronunciation, something which becomes progressively harder as we grow older.

In a nutshell, we are one of the few nations who don’t naturally encourage our children to speak more than one language from birth. Frankly, the early learning of languages gives other countries major advantages. Whilst we have English and the possibility of learning another language at age 11 when they reach secondary school, other countries have their own language, English and the possibility of learning a third language much younger than age 11[3]. Unfortunately, our children are on the back foot and as parents, this is not what we want for them. We want them to have the best possible start in life by giving them the tools to be able to compete with their, in this case, more knowledgeable and skilled counterparts. What we really want, is to match them, if not show them and prove to them that we are breaking the mould.

The fact that foreign language learning is not compulsory in schools until much later should not comfort us or give us the excuse to deny them. It shouldn’t matter that the government don’t stress the importance of learning foreign languages – this should have the opposite effect on us. This should make us feel passionately that, even though the powers that be dictate that our children are not worthy of such skills, we need to make this happen for our children.

We need to take the lead and show our children that we don’t accept this; that our children are worth so much more, that they are all able. We need to show our children that we are creating the’ best start in life’ for them. Whether they grow up to be bilingual is another matter; however what we are doing is encouraging our children. We are equipping them with skills that so few have. We are enabling them to see the world differently which will ultimately impact their very being. This, as we know, is so difficult to achieve as they grow older.

Our mantra as a company of:  ‘It is never too early, nor is it ever too late.’ is of course very true regarding language learning. However, to ensure the ‘best possible start in life’, the earlier the better.

So, what are we waiting for?!


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