How Children can Benefit from Learning Another Language
‘One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.’ — Frank Smith, Psycholinguist
When children study a second language, they acquire much more than a new vocabulary. Learning a second language, whether French, Chinese, Japanese or Latin, activates different areas of the brain and this brings a cascade of benefits.
The World Literacy Foundation says the earlier children begin learning a second language the easier the process is, because during early years the brain is building cognitive skills and connections that support language. Children’s natural curiosity and perception are also helpful in exploring a new language.
The foundation adds that a second language also enhances a child’s creativity and thinking skills and this has positive effects on other areas of academic study.
“When children study a language, they are not only learning words and grammar, they are learning how those things are connected. They can see patterns in language and this increases mental flexibility and the ability to solve problems more quickly,” says Mrs Maud Fugier-Sola, Head of French at Haileybury, on behalf of the language team.
“Children who learn a second language also increase memory and concentration and they often have a greater ability to focus.”
Linguistic research at Cornell University says, rather than causing confusion to younger children, students learning a second language have a greater ability to pay attention and they are less likely to be distracted by their surroundings. This has positive and lasting impacts on study throughout school years.
At Haileybury, the second language journey begins in Prep when students can learn Chinese. In Year 7, students can learn French or Japanese and, in Year 8, Latin can be selected.
“Our youngest students learn through fun activities like games, songs and quizzes. Later, they might role play a conversation,” says Mrs Fugier-Sola.
“We recently held a lunchtime event and students performed a karaoke song in their second language. They sang rap, pop or classical songs and it was great to see them perform with such confidence.”
Older language students develop the ability to read, speak, listen and write in their second language. Those students who continue their language studies through to the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) become confident communicators.
“For VCE, students have to undertake an oral component and they must speak in front of the examiners for 15 minutes. That builds confidence,” says Mrs Fugier-Sola.
“Students learn how to build a line of argument and they increase their emotional intelligence because they learn how to infer meaning and to understand different cultural implications of what they say and hear. Those are very valuable skills.”
Immersing students in their chosen language is an integral part of Haileybury’s Languages Program with opportunities to take part in overseas excursions and to spend time in Haileybury’s sister schools. Welcoming host families also share traditions, food, stories and cultural insights.
Mrs Fugier-Sola says there are things parents can do to support their child’s language development:
- Speak to your child’s language teacher to find out what you can do at home to enhance your child’s language skills.
- Check that your children have done their language homework.
- Encourage your child to practise their pronunciation by speaking words out loud.
- Provide books, songs and videos appropriate to help extend language skills. Ask your child’s teacher for guidance on what materials are most suitable.