Last week we Jollyhers little girls dresses on sale were camping at the seaside, and the kids and I were playing around with some products the recently launched company Lil’Ollo had sent us: beautifully designed games, posters and flash cards, all aimed at introducing a second language to children at a young age and in a playful, creative and imaginative way. We had a lot of fun, but it was a bit shocking for me to see how rusty Ava and especially Casper’s English had become. We really will have to make more of an effort to practise the language with them!
All of our children attended one year at the British school here in Amsterdam before going into the regular Dutch education system at the age of four. (I have written more about this here.) We felt it was a great way to kick-start their English. Quite handy, we thought, with so many friends living all over the world! But apparently, introducing a foreign language to children has other benefits. I was listening to the car radio earlier this week and following an interesting conversation about multilingualism. According to research, children who are regularly exposed to a foreign language show signs of having better problem-solving skills. They are also more creative, and on top of that, more emphatic!
Switching between languages (or just being spoken to in another language) strengthens the brain. It stimulates its executive functions, improves cognitive skills and creative thinking. (As a bonus, it helps to shield against certain negative impacts of dementia in old age!) Also, if a child wants to fully understand a foreign speaking person, he or she will have to relate to that person. Taking the speaker’s perspective and reading his/her mimics and body language has a direct and positive effect on social and communication skills and the development of empathy. I had no clue!
So, it’s safe to say, introducing a second language to children can be a good idea. It is also a good idea to start foreign language development as early as possible. Because the younger the child is, the easier it is to pick up another language. They are more receptive to pronunciation and less prone to translate to their mother tongue first. From the age of 6 months, children can recognise and learn up to five different languages!
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