You are never too old to learn another language. Language learning is an activity for anyone and everyone. I would suggest we encourage children to learn a second language as soon as possible. That way, they can begin to experience the many benefits and advantages of bilingual children – or even multilingual!
Many of us think that English is the “only” language we need, particularly because that is what everyone around us is speaking. However, this may not be necessarily true. If you, like me, have noticed recently, signage in major businesses is changing. For instance, on my most recent trip to Lowe’s for some lawn care items, my eyes were drawn to the signage, which had both English and Spanish prominently displayed. In 2009, studies showed that 79% of children between the ages of 5-17 spoke only English at home. This means that 21% of children spoke another language. Perhaps they spoke English at school, but at home, they were speaking another language.
The startling truth is we, as Americans, are behind. For many years, we have relied on the peoples of other nations to speak our language. We will not be able to succeed in this increasingly complex and interconnected world we live in with that mindset. It is important that we encourage our children, and ourselves, to be more proactive in becoming bilingual for the sake of the future. One chart I saw indicated that only 18% of American can speak a language other than English, whereas 53% of Europeans speak another language besides their own. Consider this, 30% of the US economy involves international trade, and by the year 2020, the demand for translators and interpreter jobs is projected to increase significantly faster than the average occupation.
Dr. Ellen Bialystok, PhD, F.R.S.C., of York University has said, “In addition, bilingual children who use their second language regularly are better at prioritizing tasks and multitasking compared with monolingual children.” That is a great benefit for children as they grow, attend school, and enter into the workforce.
So as parents, and/or grandparents, how can we help? Even before children begin school, we can begin to facilitate second language learning. If we are not already bilingual ourselves, maybe we have a bilingual babysitter or nanny, that can help the children begin to learn elements of a second language. There has been a surge in multilingual preschools or preschools with a language program already in place. It is important that a child have a number of positive experiences learning another language. You may have heard, children are like “sponges”, and it is true that young children seem to catch on much more quickly than adults in language acquisition. Their biggest advantage over adults, however, is simply that they are unafraid to try.
Once children reach shoo age, we need to make sure we continue to encourage and show the value of speaking another language. Perhaps the best way is to be learning one or more languages ourselves. We should show respect for other cultures, and some easy ways to do so are to invite people who speak other languages into our home or to attend cultural events featuring music, dance, or food from other countries.
There are many ways to support our children’s success; one great way is to encourage and help children learn a second language. Please share your own experiences and/or questions below, and I will respond promptly.