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How preschoolers benefit from early exposure to foreign language

How preschoolers benefit from early exposure to foreign language

Between birth and age 3, the developing childhood brain is capable of generating 1,000 neural connections every second, which means the quest for the right preschool is a big undertaking for parents who want to capitalize on their youngster’s brain power.

For many families, a school that provides an opportunity to learn a second language for preschoolers is the answer. One of the signature programs at The Summit Country Day School is the World Language program that sets a strong foundation in French or Spanish beginning at age 2.

Bilingual students have competitive edge

Young learners’ brains can be supercharged to make meaning through more than one language while gaining secondary benefits like enhanced cognitive skills that help with academic readiness and school achievement in subsequent years.

It’s a win-win. Kids grow up learning to communicate in a language other than English giving them a competitive edge in school, college and later on in the global economy, while acquiring additional life skills—like problem-solving, attentiveness and organization—along the way. There are monetary rewards, too. Bilingual skills can translate into greater earning potential in the workforce with a boost in pay of 10 to 15 percent.

Starting early is key for students to reap the gamut of positive outcomes. Cornell University references a finding that the earlier children are exposed to a language the more likely they are to attain native-like proficiency.

The Summit’s World Language Program

The Summit is unique in its academic offerings where students—as young as age 2—participate in a world language curriculum in either French or Spanish through their senior year of high school. The world language courses are required for all students at The Summit. The robust language program can lead to language fluency and allows students to gain cultural awareness and fosters global citizenship in our interconnected world.

Katia Palek teaches in the Lower and Middle Schools at The Summit and shares her perspective as a teacher who helps kids acquire Spanish language skills.

“My teaching philosophy is to create a positive learning experience, engaging students and making connections with them. I believe in the ability of every child to go beyond their own world through the experience and acquisition of a foreign language and culture,” Palek shared. “I always like to recall the thoughts of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein on his manuscript ‘The Limits of My Language are the Limits of My World.’ When a student is bilingual or multilingual, there are no bounds.”

The Summit is one of a few schools that constantly exposes its students in world language from preschool to primary and all the way up to secondary school for consistent exposure to a second language.

When kids graduate from their program, students are equipped with the competencies to compete in a global workforce with a degree of proficiency in French or Spanish.

A young child’s brain is primed for learning

Why start a second language early when most schools don’t introduce world language until early adolescence? It has to do with the way a young child’s mind operates.

A toddler’s developing brain is wired to acquire up to 10 new words per day as language skills are at the forefront of learning making early childhood a prime time to learn a second language. In fact, infants begin picking up on language cues before they can even babble and by 20 months are capable of metacognition, which is being able to know how thought processes work and, in turn, adapt thinking.

In other words, babies tune in to make sense of the verbal language they hear before they can use words of their own.

Essentially, the main pathways for learning are developed during the first years of life, making it an opportune time to introduce a second language when thinking is more flexible and not dependent on a particular language. A young child can begin to understand that a verbal expression or word can have variations. The notion that there are different ways to communicate the same message makes sense to a young child.

On a basic level, language is all about distinguishing between different sounds, which is explained by Naja Ferjan Ramirez in his article “Why the baby brain can learn two languages at the same time.” Ramirez explains that all the languages of the world represent about 800 unique sounds, while a single language uses about 40 different language sounds. As young children are exposed to the sounds of their home language or second language, they begin to process those sounds and are in a sense “hard-wired” for that particular language through this early exposure.

We always hear that a child’s mind is like a sponge. This is why a child may rouse an adult’s attention by repeating a word that parents think they were never taught (unfortunately, sometimes those four-letter words inadvertently make their way into a child’s verbal language). Children pick up on language by simply being exposed to it because the sound becomes familiar and in turn easy to verbally articulate.

Bilingualism helps with executive functioning  

Linguistic researchers have long touted the benefits of bilingualism, but new studies have uncovered advantages in executive functioning which are skills in problem solving, multitasking, organization and decision-making. The practice of switching between two languages helps with concentration, makes it easier to overcome distractions and allows one to easily move from one task to another. Additional benefits include improved metalinguistic skills which is understanding the intricacies of language and makes it easier to acquire a third language.

Educators and parents have worried about young children getting overloaded by learning two languages simultaneously, but studies have shown that is not the case due to how children learn and sort new knowledge.

In fact, scientists at Cornell University have been able to debunk some of the commonly held myths about learning a second language. It turns out that learning a second language in preschool does not result in language confusion or a language delay in a neurotypical child.

In addition to the executive functioning benefits, bilingual children may also see improvement in the social realm – feeling connected to their peers who may come from different cultural backgrounds.

The Summit Country Day School affords student a unique educational opportunity where academics, culture, language, citizenship and life skills are woven into the curriculum from preschool to 12th grade.

Rich Wilson, head of The Summit Country Day School, believes all his students are prepared for what comes after graduation. “Understanding world cultures and being able to speak a world language when they leave our door will open other doors for them,” Wilson said. “In everything we do here at The Summit, we endeavor to produce leaders of character who will use their God-given abilities to make the world a better place.”