How many times as adults have we wished we could speak another language? Maybe it was the week you went to Mexico and found that all of a sudden not everyone understood what you were saying. Or, maybe it was the time you went to France and found the “lovely” Parisian waiter did not bring you exactly what you wanted.
As adults we find learning another language to be laborious and tedious. Although we have wonderfully rational minds capable of great analytical thought we do not possess the skills necessary to allow us to acquire a language naturally. Young children from three to six years, on the other hand, have not made that step into the world of the fully conscious and rational and, thus, are much more capable of learning another language fluently and naturally. Children at three to six years of age are at a point when they are just acquiring and mastering their own language. Therefore, at this stage of development it is much easier for children to simply pick up a different set of vocabulary and grammatical rules. Not much thought or effort has to be expended on the part of the child as he learns through his experiences.
Wouldn’t it have been great if our parents had known this when we were young and enrolled us in a second language program. Then maybe now we would be able to communicate better when we travel to that exotic place. Well, at least we now know that we can have a positive effect on the next generation’s ability to communicate across cultures.
Yes, but is learning a second language right for your pre-school child? This is a common concern for many parents. And one of the most frequent questions asked by parents considering a second language program for their child is “will learning two languages confuse my child?” The answer is no. A child may mix the languages some at first but he soon learns through experience to separate the two languages and to associate each with different sets of people and environments. Many parents of bilingual children even find that their children develop a greater resourcefulness and sense of confidence in their communication abilities.
In order for your pre-schooler to fully realize this sense of confidence and resourcefulness you may want to consider several key factors when looking for a second language program. First, the class should be conducted by fluent, native speakers of that language so that your child will be exposed to the language as it is used naturally. Second, the program should be conducted in a separate classroom so that the child can learn to associate that language with those surroundings. And last, as with any pre-school program, the classroom should be inviting to the child while the teachers should be friendly and caring.