Learning a foreign language is a significant head start to life. If you want Your Child to learn to speak another language, then early exposure is the best you can do.
Research of early language learning
Findings from neuroscience have shown that in the first six months of life, children can easily identify the differences in languages. From around the age of one, children start to concentrate more on their indigenous languages and as a result, lose some of the capacity to distinguish sounds in foreign languages.
Just 5 hours can make a difference
Neuroscientists Patricia Kuhl and her colleagues showed that 9-month-old infants, who were exposed to Mandarin Chinese for less than five hours, were already able to distinguish phonetic elements of that language.
In twelve, 25-minutes sessions spaced out over four weeks, native Mandarin speakers read from children’s books and played with toys while speaking Mandarin. A control group of infants was exposed to the same procedure in English.
Later, both groups were tested for their ability to distinguish between the two Mandarin sounds using a head-turn conditioning procedure that is frequently used to test infants’ speech perception. The infants exposed to Mandarin were significantly better at distinguishing the two target sounds than were infants who only heard English.
Why the first year is so important
Early exposure helps Your Child to gain proficiency of a language quickly because, at that age, Your Child’s brain is very sensitive to sounds — it absorbs the finest details in sounds made by humans and relate them to other social clues from the speaker.
So, infants can easily identify the tiny differences in sounds from a foreign language, which most non-native speakers find challenging to articulate or perceive. Currently, it is believed that the ability to tell the difference in sounds becomes weaker after 9-10 months of age.
The benefits of learning a second language early
Early exposure to a second language helps Your Child develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, so they can be more creative and have a high mental capacity to solve complex problems as they grow.
In addition to that, a second language can help Your Child attain Object Permanence, faster. Object permanence develops around one year of age and is the mental ability to acknowledge the existence of an object even without seeing the object. It is synonymous with working memory.
Tips for teaching Your Child a second language
The research findings indicate that infants can extract phonetic information only if the language is produced by a human, suggesting that social interaction is an important component of language learning.
Having your child spend time with a native speaker is, therefore, the most effective way. As Your Child is too young to be left with a stranger, you may want to hire a trusted teacher or invite over a family member or colleague who speaks the language that Your Child might want to learn later.
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (31 March 2021)