Learning an additional language can be a daunting task, especially as you grow older. The Italian Cardinal Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti is said to have spoken more than 38 languages fluently at the time of his death in 1849. Luckily we don’t have to attempt to learn 38 languages, but to be fluent in one additional language (other than your mother tongue) has many benefits.
Children have a huge advantage when it comes to learning a new language. They are able to learn the language systems, without having to focus on the rules of the language. Adult brains already have an established language system that tends to interfere with the phonetics and learning of an additional language.
Specialists in the field are all in agreement that there is a specific “window of opportunity” in your life when learning a new language is easiest and most successful. The timespan is roughly from when a child learns to speak, up to puberty. The best time to learn an additional language is during this period. This is when the habits of a child’s mother tongue pronunciation and grammar are less ingrained and a new language is easier to absorb.
Boost your brain
Recent studies have proven that being bilingual or multilingual have more benefits than just the ability to communicate in many languages.
Children learning more than one language, engage both the left and right hemispheres of their brains, which in turn results in more rational and emotionally sound behaviour. Studies of brain activity in bilingual people have also shown a higher density in brain matter and more brain activity when using an additional language. It is also believed that learning additional languages can delay the onset of diseases like Dementia and Alzheimers.
As it takes effort and concentration for children to sometimes find the right word in the right language, this process also enhances children’s ability to focus and filter out unnecessary information. This in turn helps with problem solving and critical thinking.
Learn the lingo
The process of learning an additional language is unfortunately not that easy for everyone. If a child is only exposed to an additional language in the few hours allocated for it at school, it will take a long time to really be fluent in the language.
A few tips to help your child learn an additional language:
- Listen to a radio station in the additional language on your many trips between school and activities
- Watch at least one TV programme in the additional language – those with subscripts are the best
- Listen to music in the additional language. Children are very good at memorising lyrics of songs
- READ, READ, READ and at least once a week, read one page out loud
- Build vocabulary by using a bilingual dictionary or reading on an electronic device where a dictionary app is installed
- Ask the teacher or a friend who is fluent in the additional language to record the pronunciation of spelling words and let your child listen to these on their smart phones
- Invite friends over who are fluent in the additional language and encourage conversations in that language
- If all else fails, start dating a person who is a native speaker!