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When Should We Begin Teaching Our Children A Second Language?

by Beth Butler

Remember high school? You could choose French or Spanish. What you couldn’t choose was to be the right age to learn a new language easily. You memorized verbs, but you probably didn’t learn to speak fluently.

Today, enlightened school systems know better. Second languages are introduced in elementary school. Little kids do learn more easily than high school students.

But current research says to really do it right, start even earlier. Start when the child is learning a first language. Babies have an astonishing ability to absorb. And in today’s complex world, a second language is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.

We know now that studying a second language offers surprising benefits to children. Research has demonstrated improved ability to communicate, better cognitive development, richer cultural awareness and, ultimately, better job opportunities for those who know a second language.

What’s more, today’s children will all be required to have command of two languages by the time they reach college.

Research suggests that from birth through age 10 is the best time to introduce new languages to a young child. The child will learn the language faster, retain it better and most often speak it with near-native pronunciation. Recent research indicates a young child up through age 5 can learn and process up to five languages!

Many parents deliberate over how to bring a new language into their little one’s life. Many experts agree the bilingual approach for the very young child is best. Teach the new language alongside the native language. It’s as easy as pointing to a cat and saying “cat” then following with “gato.”

This bilingual method provides continuing education in the child’s native tongue while acquiring skills in the new one. Language experts agree the strong sense of pride, higher self-esteem and long term retention are all reasons to introduce the new language with this bilingual/dual-language approach.

Today’s parents know the importance of being bilingual. Now they just need to know where to turn for assistance in finding fun and affordable bilingual products that will bring the target language into their child’s life. The internet has made their search much easier than five years ago. Look for bilingual programs that allow you to sample their visual or audio products on line so that you get a good feel for the content and style of the language learning within that particular program.

Remember to make it fun! Remember to start early! There is a reason Time and Newsweek both ran feature articles on the “window of opportunity” to learn a new language is between birth and age 10. The experts agree, the earlier the better. Don’t miss out on the prime time of your child’s development to provide your child with a lifetime of language skills.

About the Author
(c) 2005 – All Rights Reserved. Beth Butler is the creator of the BOCA BETH Program – a bilingual educational program geared towards helping young children get a head start on becoming bilingual. She motivates and assists educators in developing a bilingual environment for children, and she has developed a program that makes bilingual education a fun and easy part of the normal, child-raising routine for today’s parents. For more information, visit

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2 Comments on "When Should We Begin Teaching Our Children A Second Language?"

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[…] Which languages, if you have the choice? Which method? Who speaks what language where? Make these decisions early, preferably before the delivery. In other words, make an SOP – a standard operating procedure […]

6 years 10 months ago

I totally agree. We live in Montreal and there are so many bilingual and trilingual children. It’s important for American children to have the same benefit of speaking 2-3 languages. At home we use Little Pim DVDs (awesome series!!), French children’s books, and we play online French games. TV 5 has a Rue Sesame (Sesame Street) game that is all in french.

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