There are many good reasons for learning a foreign language, such as being able to find your way round another country or perhaps fulfilling a burning desire to work as an interpreter for the UN. Language skills are indeed in high demand in the workplace so being able to converse in another tongue could be good for your wallet. More importantly though, whatever your age, language learning is good for the brain!
The earlier the better
Newborn babies are linguistic geniuses because they can discriminate between all the sounds of all the languages of the world. This ability doesn’t last forever though! If children start to learn a language before the age of 7 they can achieve near native-like pronunciation and intonation. But after this age, the ability of the brain to distinguish between different linguistic sounds starts to decrease quite dramatically. Starting early also gives children more opportunity to become fluent in one or more languages.
However, in the UK, most children will only get their first taste of formal language learning at the age of 7, once their linguistic sensitivity has already started to diminish. Why not give your child a head start?
Train your brain
Being able to roll the ‘r’s properly when singing ‘Frère Jacques’ and knowing how to count to ten in Spanish are very useful, but are in some ways just the icing on the cake. Bilinguals are better at multi-tasking, have better attention and improved working memory because of the ‘mental juggling’ that’s involved in speaking 2 languages. Bilingual or multilingual adults are also helping to protect themselves against the onset of dementia. Young children who engage in foreign language learning also have better critical thinking skills, creativity and even score higher on maths tests!
Exposure to another language also helps improve English literacy because children begin to understand that meaning can be represented in more than one way. Improving a child’s ability to think about language can also improve reading skills. In addition, learning a foreign language gives children new insights into their mother tongue, especially as there are many words which have been imported into English from other languages.
Learn about different cultures
Cultural awareness, for example learning about different values and daily routines, is an integral part of language learning. It also creates greater empathy and respect for people from different countries. Children are more open to other cultures and different languages and so will find it easier to learn cultural norms and improve their understanding of the world.
Literature is a great way to introduce young children to different cultures and languages. Did you know that there are many well-loved children’s books which have been brought to us in translation? For young children these include Babar, the Moomins, the Rainbow Fish books and the Mrs. Pepperpot stories. Older readers will enjoy the Inkheart trilogy, the ‘French Harry Potter’ Oksa Pollock and of course classics such as the Asterix and Tintin books.
But don’t just take our word for it!
On the website ‘Why Languages Matter‘ school children explain, in their own words, why learning languages matters to them.
And just in case you need a few more reasons to start learning another language, here are 700 more!