The Importance of Children Learning a Language

In our ever-changing world, children learning a language seems to be becoming even more important. An ability to communicate in different languages is increasingly valuable.

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For young children, learning another language offers numerous benefits that extend way beyond simple language knowledge. Today is the European Day of Languages, so it felt right to write this today. I have a fondness for language learning, starting French after-school club at the age of 10 and then studying French and German all the way through secondary school, college and university, spending a year abroad in Lille, France. My teaching qualification, a primary PGCE, even came with a languages specialism and I taught my very first placement in a school in Nancy, France.

My girls are really interested in their French lessons at primary school. Knowing I have a degree in French and German and spent a year abroad in France, they keep asking me to help them to learn more. One of the best online resources I have found is Wordwall. There is a wealth of interactive games and activities suitable for the primary age (and older), so we use that regularly. I have also invested in a French Dictionary to allow them more independence when wanting to know what a word is in French. It’s also a great way to see how much they’ve remembered about French phonics when they attempt to pronounce the words.

Here are just a few benefits of children learning a language young:

1. Cognitive Benefits

Research has consistently shown that learning a language at a young age enhances cognitive development. Children who are exposed to multiple languages exhibit improved problem-solving skills, enhanced retention of facts and figures and increased creativity. Language learning stimulates the brain, promoting critical thinking, analytical reasoning and cognitive flexibility. Additionally, bilingual or multilingual children often excel in academic subjects such as mathematics and literacy, demonstrating improved overall results.

2. Personal and Social Development

Of course, children learning a language are not always so focused on the academic gains that could come as a result – and actually, why should it be all focused on that one area? Learning a language also empowers children to become effective communicators and fosters strong interpersonal skills. It can enhance their confidence and self-esteem as they gain the ability to express themselves in different languages. The older we get, the more inhibited we feel about having to attempt to converse in a foreign tongue, so starting young is definitely a bonus. By interacting with speakers of other languages, our offspring may even develop greater cultural sensitivity and tolerance, broadening their worldview and cultivating empathy. Language learning also promotes adaptability and resilience, as children navigate different linguistic and cultural contexts, fostering a sense of belonging and global citizenship.

I remember when I lived in France, watching a Brit try to order a meal at Quick, a Belgian fast food chain. It was incredibly cringeworthy and I wanted to dive in to help, but the man behind the till was able to deal with it quickly and efficiently. However, the level or arrogance and self-importance that can often be displayed when us Brits assume that everyone, wherever we go, will speak English is frankly embarrassing. As already mentioned, my daughters both learn French at school, and while their abilities aren’t fantastic, they enjoy the subject and would be able to have a brief exchange if we were to visit a French-speaking country for a holiday – our hope for the future!

3. Economic Opportunities

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, proficiency in multiple languages at an older age can open up a wide range of economic opportunities. Where multiculturalism is often celebrated, being bilingual or multilingual can greatly enhance employability. Learning a language at a young age, children can gain a competitive edge in an increasingly global job market. They are better equipped to liaise with international business partners, work in diverse industries and pursue careers that involve cross-cultural collaboration, making them valuable assets to employers.

Of course, the language learnt makes a difference. Here, most schools offer French, Spanish or German, whereas Cantonese would be a better option for a lot of us considering our futures. Unfortunately, given the country’s history of teaching the aforementioned European languages, there are not enough teachers of other world languages to ensure that the subject would be offered across the country.

4. Preservation of Cultural Heritage

Language is an important part of a nation’s cultural identity. You only have to look at the 1994 law in France where radio stations must play at least 40% (now 35%) of songs in their national language in a bid to prevent an English invasion to see how vital it is to many countries. By encouraging children to learn languages, this promotes cultural diversity and inclusivity. Learning a language enables children to connect with their own heritage. It also fosters an appreciation for other cultures. It helps preserve indigenous languages and enables future generations to understand and value their cultural roots. By embracing linguistic diversity, young children in the U.K. contribute to a more inclusive and harmonious society, fostering intercultural understanding and respect.

To participate fully in a multicultural and globalised society, it is essential for young children to learn a language. The cognitive, personal, social and economic benefits are immense, equipping them with valuable skills for the future. By embracing language learning, children are better prepared to make a positive contribution to a multicultural world, fostering mutual understanding and promoting a more harmonious society (we can hope, at least!).

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