by: Jessie L. Mundo
It’s Never Too Early to Start Learning
Have you ever wondered how toddlers are capable of uttering perfectly coherent phrases and sentences without any formal training? Yes, we repeat over and over again random words and sentences, but one surprising day the child comes up with his own unique first sentence. It’s all possible thanks to a set of highly organized processes taking place in the brain.
Exposing a child to a second language in the early years is crucial for proper second language acquisition. There’s a set of basic features in languages known as linguistics universals which all languages have in common. Children build upon and around those basic features when learning a new language. It’s at that point when they unconsciously acquire that language’s structure.
During the first three years of a child’s life the brain is essentially a sponge, absorbing every detail about speech and all the necessary skills of the language he’s being exposed to. Early exposure to a second language enhances vocabulary as well as understanding. The child will learn how to make associations and self-expression.
When infants are exposed to a second language before they have learned to speak they learn how to distinguish sounds and patterns as native speakers, and by the time they’re speaking they will be able to organize words, form sentences and talk with the competence of a innate speaker. This is all because they have internalized the language’s structure as languages can’t be memorized, but their structure forms part of the necessary skills acquired.
Once a child understands how a language works he is able to form an infinite number of sentences from a finite amount of words, which is why reinforcement and immersion is key. Children develop new language skills dynamically through human interactions. Having a person competent in the second language interacting with the child is essential for proper learning.
Children have to hear the language being used correctly in its own environment. They have the capacity to acquire any language with native speaker proficiency as long as they are exposed to it before reaching their critical period for language acquisition, which is around ages 6-7. That is why the earlier a child is exposed to a second language with a speaker who has native competence, the faster and easier it will be for that child to comprehend all the abstract features of that language and start using it. And, given that 85%, yes 85%!, of brain development takes place before reaching age 5, it’s never too early to start a second language.
About the Author
Jessie is a linguist and content creator intern at Smart Coos. A food enthusiast, whenever she’s not working there’s always something brewing in her kitchen.
García, O. & Li, W. Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2014. Print.
Petesky, David. “Linguistics Universals and Universal Grammar.” MIT Press. 2010. Web. 2 Sep. 2015.