Friday, December 3, 2010

Early Childhood Learning - The Best Time for Bilingual Education

Kathleen Thomas of Primrose Schools contacted me about a topic which I find intriguing: teaching children one or more foreign languages. I am a certified ESL instructor myself and am a huge supporter of the total immersion method.
Here's what Kathleen and her co-writer Emily have to say
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Of course, nobody knows what the future will hold – but if current trends continue, your child will grow up to enter a workforce in which the competition for decent-paying jobs will be nothing short of cut-throat. Despite the calls for greater co-operation and "interdependence," human nature being what it is, it's a good bet that the economy of the the future will operate according to the Law of the Jungle. It goes without saying that a good education is one of the best ways to prepare that child for survival in that economic jungle of the future.

The Bilingual Future

One of the future trends that has become certain is the existence of a diverse, global society. Nowhere is this more true than in the United States. Almost from the beginning, the U.S. has been a land of immigrants, and while the "melting pot" has been an interesting theory, it has not happened in practice. On the contrary, most major U.S. population centers have become more of an ethnic and linguistic checkerboard; Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese speakers represent some of the fastest-growing segments of the immigrant U.S. population.

In addition, with the rise of China, English may very well lose its preeminence as the international language of business; at best, it will have to share that top status with Mandarin in decades to come.

Getting Ready

Traditional wisdom has been to start teaching a second language in middle school, or even high school. Yet numerous research studies clearly demonstrate that the optimal period in a child's life for multilingual education is during the preschool years – at exactly the same time they are learning their first language. Yes, it is possible to learn a second and third language later in life, but it is more difficult, because that neurological "window of opportunity" – when the brain is most malleable – has passed.

According to Dr. Fred Genessee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, it's as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. He's not alone; educators throughout the world (in countries that often have two or even three official languages) have understood this for decades.

The way a child learns a second language is by actually speaking it in a total immersion environment. You may recall an episode of the animated series The Simpsons in which young Bart gets trapped on a farm in France – and by the end of the episode, finds he's actually speaking the language. While this was a fictional scenario, the phenomenon is real; anyone who has taken young children abroad to stay with relatives in a foreign country for any length of time has observed this happening.

Enrollment in a preschool program that offers immersion in other languages is the best way to get your child started. This investment will make him/her much more competitive in the job market later on.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Atlanta day care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of day care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

2 comments:

Mandi Miller said...

Oh I definitely agree with this article! I learned French as a 3 year old! But when I took Spanish in high school it was MUCH harder. Although at home we cannot teach my daughter Spanish through complete immersion, we do teach her words, numbers and the alphabet. When she starts preschool and then elementary school, Spanish will be just another subject... like math and reading. This was a great article!!

Thank you for stopping by yesterday!

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