What You Never Knew Your Child Could Do: Myths and Facts from Language University
Three myths surrounding your child’s abilities to learn a second language.
There are many opinions floating around when it comes to children learning a second language. All the advice can seem daunting, especially when we aren’t sure what to believe. So, I’ve responded to three popular myths to show you just how capable young children are when it comes to learning a second language!
Myth: “Older children and adults are more receptive to learning a foreign language than younger children.”
While it is true that older children and adults are receptive, there are major differences between how they and younger children learn. As children near puberty, they become more aware of others’ perceptions of them, making them quieter and less daring.1 Older students have their own learning techniques, personality types, and gender behaviors, which all play a role in their learning styles. Ironically, American students generally begin learning a second language in middle school, when they have yet to discover their learning styles or to grasp their sense of self. This puts extra stress on them, which impedes their abilities to accept new input, like a foreign language.
So why not postpone learning a second language until adulthood? Unfortunately, that self-consciousness from puberty doesn’t dissipate upon becoming an adult. In fact, a study found that 38% of university students fear going to foreign language classes more than any other class.2 That’s more than twice the number of people who are afraid of going to the dentist!3 Looking at younger children, it’s actually their lack of maturity that makes them more fearless, when it comes to a second language. Preschoolers haven’t yet developed that self-consciousness, and they are naturally more willing to learn. And many of the stressful factors from above don’t inhibit their open minds, so learning becomes a game they want to win!
Myth: “Your child can learn a second language from ‘edutainment’ TV, like Dora the Explorer.”
No disrespect to Big Bird, but children cannot learn a second language from “edutainment” programs.4 This is mainly due to a lack of significant input and prompting for response. What that means is Dora can teach children how to say “hola,” but she isn’t engaging with them. Edutainment is missing the interactivity of a real, live human. Interestingly, that human doesn’t have to be a licensed teacher or native speaker. Even parents with limited language skills can effectively teach their children!5
Myth: “There’s no way to motivate a child into learning a second language.”
The fact is that children can learn a second language without being coaxed. As long as they feel safe and engaged, children are willing to learn, especially when it’s introduced through fun. This is why music, art, and physical activity are the three pillars of our foreign language program, Language University. And not only can children be motivated to learn, but studies also prove that the earlier children are exposed to a second language, the sooner they will acquire enhanced problem-solving, reasoning skills, creativity, cognitive development, a boosted self-confidence, and a deeper understanding of other peoples and cultures.6 This means that learning a second language actually helps children become better students and people!
See our full, five-myth version of this blog at www.languageuniv.com/blogs.
If your child’s preschool or elementary school doesn’t offer a second language (be it within their curriculum, extracurriculars, or summer camps), please reach out!
- Strozer, J. R. (1994). Language acquisition after puberty. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 131.
- Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. Foreign language classroom anxiety. Modern Language Journal, 70, 125-132.
- What is dental anxiety and phobia? (2013, September 18). Colgate Oral Care. Retrieved from https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/basics/dental-visits/what-is-dental-anxiety-and-phobia
- King, K. A., & Mackey, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when, and how to teach your child a second language. New York: HarperCollins, 29.
- King, K. A., & Mackey, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when, and how to teach your child a second language. New York: HarperCollins, viii.
Photographs provided by Language University.