The importance of learning languages before the age of 6
In today’s increasingly globalised world, young people who have a confident grasp of the English language often enjoy greater academic success, can access a broader range of job opportunities, find global travel easier and can connect more readily with the global community. English, as a language and as a communication tool, forms a significant part of contemporary culture. However, learning English from an early age can offer our children other, and even greater benefits, than those mentioned above.
Numerous research studies published in the Oxford University Press’s “How Languages are Learned” highlight the fact that exposure to English as a foreign language throughout childhood improves communication skills, promotes the learning of other languages, (including a child’s mother tongue) and opens up a whole new world of exciting intellectual, social and cultural opportunities and experiences.
So, why is it important to start learning English before the age of 6?
Psychological and Pedagogical research has shown that a child’s brain is flexible, open to acquiring and retaining new information, and is capable of learning languages easily and naturally (‘Aprender Idiomas’ [“Learning Languages”] ed. PAIDÓS). This is because during these early years a child’s brain is in the process of forming various neural connections, and If, during this process, the child is exposed to new information such as a new language, the benefit is two-fold: the brain’s neural pathways continue to increase and expand, and the rate of learning becomes faster and easier.
Additionally, as a child’s mind is generally free from the pressures of work, money, family or other “grown-up” concerns, they are able to learn easily and without external interference. Exposure to other languages, in our case, in English, from an early age, accelerates and enhances the cognitive process, and provides children with various advantages over those who do not have access to this opportunity. For example, a bilingual child quickly understands that even if something has two different names, for example “house” or “casa”, it is the same thing, and they quickly learn to accept and internalise this concept as a perfectly normal part of the learning process.
Learning languages before the age of 6 improves communication skills and cognitive development
Research published in the scientific journal “Pedagogía Magna” notes that, rather than being an exercise in linguistic acquisition, learning a language at a young age is more of a general cognitive problem-solving activity, greatly enhancing skills such as the ability to think critically, and allowing the brain to learn in a more natural, flexible and creative way. At this age, new vocabulary and expressions are absorbed through listening and repetition, and young English learners develop a very natural style of pronunciation and intonation, reflecting that of native English speakers. Growing up surrounded by foreign language has also been shown to have positive effects on memory, concentration and listening skills, even helping children to speak, write, read and express themselves more clearly and fluently in their mother tongue.
Other studies support the theory that children who study languages early obtain better results in Mathematics than pupils who start to learn languages later in their education, even when they have fewer overall hours of mathematics tuition.
Long-term cerebral benefits
One of the longer-term benefits of learning other languages is that it is a life-long process that keeps the brain continually active and engaged. Recent studies suggest that if the brain’s neural pathways are constantly active and stimulated, such as when one learns a foreign language, they continue to regenerate and remain connected, and this has proved to be an important factor in delaying the onset of brain disease such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
With regard to the optimal age to start learning languages, we say, “the sooner the better”, but experts indicate that anytime between 3 and 6 years is a good place to start!
A multilingual curriculum
The curriculum at Agora Madrid is multilingual; our programme offers full immersion in English, and allows pupils to master their mother-tongue alongside exposure to English, French, German or Chinese. The school is a registered examinations centre for Trinity College London and University of Cambridge in English, the Confucius Institute in Mandarin Chinese, and we work in collaboration with the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut to enable our pupils to obtain official language qualifications in French and German.
As part of our curriculum-wide language enhancement programme, older students are invited to participate in cultural exchanges with students from the United Kingdom, France or Germany, and from Primary Year 5 onwards, pupils are offered the chance to study abroad for a term or even for an entire academic year in prestigious overseas boarding schools, allowing them to enjoy a fully immersive academic, cultural and linguistic experience…. and make many new friends along the way!
In addition to cognitive and linguistic benefits, learning new languages also provides many social and cultural benefits. Exposure to different languages early on in their lives, means that pupils at Agora Madrid naturally come across a range of social, cultural and historical references that they might not otherwise encounter. Our international approach helps our pupils to widen their intellectual horizons, develop a broader intercultural perspective and a greater understanding of global issues and events. From a psychological point of view, at this age children experience significant developmental changes and are “in the process of developing from self-centred into reciprocal individuals, and the information they receive before the age of 10 is critical throughout this stage”.
Why learn languages before the age of 6?
Learning English as foreign language from a young age means the acquisition of a new means of expression and communication, not only improving the ability to communicate in English, but also in the mother tongue. The skills and abilities necessary for learning a new language are transferable to learning and communication in general; children assimilate these intellectual processes and learn how to use them in a practical way. Learning in this way promotes overall cognitive, cultural and social development, encouraging not only improved academic performance, but also the development of more rounded human beings. The study of English, French and German, provides a useful tool in preparing children to face future challenges, expanding their intellectual horizons and acquiring greater global awareness and understanding.