What The Research Tells Us About Learning a Second Language
Swan School has a long history of basing the learning opportunities it provides for its students on research. As we strive to make our school ever better we always ask ourselves, “What is best for children?” When reading the research on language learning, it is very clear, language is best learned before age 12. Why is that?
Children’s brains are made to learn language quickly and naturally. A child’s brain is different from an adult’s brain mainly because it is still evolving, it is dynamic. For instance a two-year-old’s brain has twice as many synapses or connections in it than an adult’s does. These synapses fit in a sort of “use them or lose them” scenario. If a child does not use them as they are building knowledge or skills, they eventually lose those connections. That is not to say that synapses cannot be newly built at a later time, it is just that it is more difficult to do so.
Dr. Susan Curtiss, a Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, has studied the way children learn languages. She has noted that “…in language development there is a window of opportunity in which the child learns that first language normally. After this period, the brain becomes slowly less plastic and by the time the child reaches adolescence, the brain cannot develop richly and normally any real cognitive system, including language.”
Dr. Curtiss goes on to say, “…the power to learn language is so great in the young child that it doesn’t seem to matter how many languages you throw their way…They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is just ripe to do this…”
At Swan School every student studies Spanish. Children experience focussed lessons twice each week from a native Spanish speaker in grades K-6. In addition, nearly all of our staff speak Spanish and mix it into lessons and interactions throughout the day. In this way children at Swan School gain a strong foundation for a second language at a time in their lives when learning language comes easy.
If you would like to find out more about young children and learning a second language, follow the link below.