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At What Age Should Schools Start Teaching a Foreign Language?

What age should schools in the UK (and all over the world) start teaching a foreign language, other than English?

In 2012, UK officials made learning a foreign language compulsory for children in primary school, starting at age seven. This caused many people to ask the question, “What age is appropriate for children to start learning a second language?” The answer, according to many experts, is “as early as possible.” The younger a child is, the easier it is going to be for them to grasp the concept of a second language, especially if they are totally immersed in that language. With a base knowledge of a second language in primary school, UK officials plan for students to learn the more complicated fundamentals in secondary school. With all these years of learning, a student should be totally bilingual by the time they graduate, making them more cultured and more competitive in the workforce.

Research has shown that it becomes more difficult to become fluent in a second language as you get older. The part of the brain that is used for acquiring languages grows and develops during childhood, which makes it much easier for youngsters to pick up on things like vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. This research supports the UK primary school decision and truly shows how integral it is for school systems to support teaching a foreign language.

Research also shows that a child can learn a second language much easier if they are constantly exposed to the language. This is why many foreign language teachers choose to speak in whatever language they are teaching, simply hearing the words improves a child’s comprehension of the language, even if they don’t understand what is being said. This means that it is important for parents to help their child with learning a foreign language just like they would help with homework in any other subject.

When British children (or any other child) start learning German, French, or Japanese at seven years old, they will be much more likely to succeed at becoming fluent in the foreign language than adults or older children would be. While this emphasis on foreign languages is prevalent in Europe, in the United States, and in other countries, it is either optional or not offered at all. It would be smart for other countries to take a page out of the UK’s book and begin pushing for schools to start teaching a foreign language at an earlier age, as it allows children to get a full understanding and mastery of the language before the ever graduate school. Being bilingual has many advantages in life, so it is best to get started early.

 

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