The ongoing debate of learning a second language at an early age has taken off and we all know the benefits of learning another language. As one site states, among the many known benefits of being able to communicate to people from a different country, bilingualism helps with executive function in children and dementia in older people. However, is it better to learn a second language as a young child or when we are older?
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Evidence has been documented for a long time on the critical learning period of younger children learning a first language.
However, just recently, the areas of the brain when learning a second language (Brocas and Wernickes areas) were analyzed and compared to the same areas of the brain when someone was learning a first language.
It was then shown that when learning first and second languages at an early age, both speech and language areas of the brain show overlapping activity.
However, when comparing these same areas of the brain while learning a second language after adolescence, the areas of Wernickes ( Language ) overlap but Brocas area ( Speech ) did not overlap like bilingual learning in early learners.
So, in essence, with the areas not overlapping in speech, it might suggest that learning a second language at a later age is not as natural and explains for varying problems in Expressive Syntax and other areas of the learned language.
What Activities are Best for Early Learners
Social Activities for learning a language are the best for early learners. During this critical period of learning, the brain is soaking everything up like a sponge. It is quite different than learning a language later in life such as grammar based and sitting in a classroom. These types of activities mimic natural learning and make the language learning process more natural.
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Client Centered Activities
The way children communicate at younger ages is by playing. So, it is only natural to incorporate storytelling, games, music, tangible toys and objects to learn speech, language and social-emotional behaviors.
An example of a natural activity could be as simple as a game catching fish. The child is given a small fishing pole and attempts to catch fish with the board game and tangible fish. While the child is playing, the teacher can then interject all sorts of vocabulary, verbs, turn taking, adjectives, and ask Wh questions in the target language.
Such as “Wow! You caught a fish. What color is the fish? Is the fish big or small? You caught a big, blue fish!” While doing natural play activities the teacher is helping guide the activity but letting the child essentially problem solve and lead the way towards optimal learning and critical thinking in his own natural way. A talented play therapist can think fast and react to the child’s decisions and interject different aspects of language as well as role play.
There has been a new demand in Bilingual Preschools lately across the globe. Like Tessa International School states “We prepare children to be leaders of the 21st century and happy world citizens. Students embrace the world with enthusiasm, confidence and the strong will to make a difference.”
The world is forever shrinking with globalization and while English is still the global dialect, other languages such as French, Spanish, and Mandarin are in increasing demand due to Financial Influence and population growth. Learning a second language at an earlier age allows the natural process of language learning and might allow for better and easier fluent communication than at later ages.