Saturday, August 21, 2010

Early Learning - Why should a 3-year-old learn a foreign language?

In the early nineties, scientists came to the surprising conclusion that early experiences structure the brain and shape it like plasticene. The quality and quantity of the input received in the sensitive phases are decisive in determining how efficiently the brain will function. Within this context, it has been proved that the brain and general level of intelligence are stimulated when a second language is learnt at an early age.

Since a child´s processing system only takes on the information it can deal with at any one time, there is no danger that he or she will be flooded with information.

In each of the above-mentioned sensitive stages of development, children learn certain skills particularly quickly. These are the so-called windows of opportunity, in which “information highways” are created, linking up different areas of the brain. The more a child is encouraged at this stage, the easier and quicker learning will be for him or her later on. This learning ability diminishes from the age of five onwards. The “windows” gradually close, and if the nerve cells are not connected up at the right point in time, the opportunity is irrecoverably lost. The sensitive stage for learning a language starts at birth and continues till the age of ten. The tempo of speech development is especially rapid from the age of two onwards. At three, a child has a passive vocabulary of 3,000 words and an active vocabulary of 1,000 words. One three-year-old out of two can form complete sentences.

As far as language learning is concerned, the little ones are far ahead of the rest of us. They could learn any of the 6,000 existing languages with amazing speed. From a scientific point of view, the ideal period for learning a second language is between three and five. There is very little chance of learning a foreign language to the same level as one's mother tongue after the age of ten or eleven.

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