The Critical Period for a Foreign Language Learning

    Foreign Language

    The younger the child, the easier it is for him to learn a foreign language, and moreover he can lean any number of languages if exposed to them regularly and systematically. The child also needs to communicate in that language regularly. In fact, research has shown that the earlier the immersion in a second language, the better the child will grasp both grammar and accent as an adult (Johnson and Newport 1989). It is true that the young learner has no advantage in performing written grammatical exercises. However, the young child really has a distinct advantage in accent and the long-term mastery of grammatical structures.

    The critical period for learning the mother tongue is before the age of seven. This means that if the child does not learn his first language within this period of time, he will never speak fluently or fully grasp the language. This is because a biological readiness appears in the brain for language acquisition at this time in the child’s development. After the age of seven, the child loses this aptitude.

    Recent research shows that this is also true of a second language learning. That is, that although one can learn a second language after the age of seven, it is unlikely that the learner will ever attain a command of the language like the native speaker does (Johnson and Newport 1989).

    Of course, even if the child did not start learning a second language during the critical period, the earlier he starts learning, the better. It is far better to learn at the age of eight than at the age of 11; the child’s long term mastery of all language aspects will be far greater.

    However, you may rightly be thinking that it is only true of second language acquisition, if it is done naturally when the child lives in the country in which the language is spoken. You may be thinking that it is useless to teach young children a foreign language, because they would learn slowly and forget fast. And you would be correct here if you were talking of traditional methods of education: reading, writing, grammar and written games. However, this is not the case with the youngest learners. A number of games and activities will be of a great use for you in this important matter – just play and speak the language you want your little one to learn.

    Is your little one immersed in foreign language environment? If not – do you want him to be? If yes – what language and in which way? Share your thoughts and stories with us! We love hearing from you!


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