Living on an island like Mallorca it’s common to see kids as young as 4 or 5 years old chatting away in different languages – perhaps switching easily from their mother’s English or their father’s German to the Spanish and Catalan they study and hear in school. As someone who sees the time and effort most adult students put into learning a new language, this bilinguilism seems an extraordinary gift to be able to give your child.
Parents often ask us what is the best age to start their kids with learning a second language and we always respond ‘The earlier, the better!’. Kids are most open to language acquisition at a very young age – the age they are getting to grips with their own native tongue! Their brains are built to absorb new vocabulary and grammar, copy new sounds and pronounce new words correctly. During this critical period they are specifically sensitive to grammar as rules and structures can be assimilated but afterwards must be explicitly taught. And the best thing ?They aren’t even aware they are learning. Their brains are perfectly capable of acquiring two, three or more language effectively at the same time.
So how long is this critical language learning window open? Exposing your kids to English (or another second language) from as young as you can is the optimum -if you are unable to communicate in that language yourself the internet can provide a wealth of songs, stories, nursery rhymes and cartoons that will do instead. When they are old enough at age three or four they can attend classes where learning through songs, games and stories continues interactively. Some studies suggest that a child´s ability to ‘pick up’ a language peaks at age 6/7 while others argue this ability lasts through to adolescence -but nearly early all experts agree that once puberty is over so is this fantastic language learning opportunity.