I was speaking two languages fluently by the age the four. My Persian parents spoke both english and their native language at home so i was able to impress our family elders on family vacations back to the mother and father lands.
On all my travels I note that children globally can speak up to four languages as their norm. Why are the UK's youth the worst at wanting to and being able to speak not only good english, but any other language?
David Cameron during his Conservative Party Conference speech recently declared that "more children are learning a foreign language". What however he fails to address is the age at which these children are learning a second language. They are not learning early enough! Children have a proven "critical period" for learning a second or even third language - zero to four years old. Recent analysis of brain scans performed on toddlers at King's College London now confirms this fact, it has just been sensationally revealed.
Following proven scientific research, it is now widely accepted thatforeign language learning at a very young age increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind. Learning a foreign language is much more a cognitive problem solving activity than a linguistic activity.
The brain of a young child is flexible and "plastic", and like a muscle needs exercise. Second language learning gives the young brain just that - a thorough work-out, actually remodelling and changing the physical structure of the brain, maximising its amazing potential. "It's almost as if the monolingual child's brain is on a diet and the bilingual child's brain stretches to the full extent and variability that Mother Nature gave it to use language and exploit human language", says Dr Laura-Ann Petitto, a world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist.
The notion of "the earlier the better" in foreign language learning is upheld by bilingual children going on to achieve better academic achievements overall, including surprisingly in maths. Learning a second language for a very young child is mere child's play, like learning their native tongue or learning to walk. It is also imperative to start learning at a very young age for an authentic native accent.
Recent news also of UK's appalling results in OECD's international survey in both numeracy and literacy tests. Unsurprisingly countries where early foreign language learning is encouraged outperform both UK (and USA). If UK children were to learn a foreign language very early in life they would go on to achieve better academic results. Something also has to be done urgently if British youngsters are to be able to compete in the international marketplace for future jobs, where increasingly multilingualism is a minimal requirement. Alarmingly, it has recently been confirmed that fewer and fewer students are choosing a foreign language as an A level subject!
"UK is the least multilingual of all the countries in the European Union", and as stated in British Council's report "English next" ,the monoglot English graduates face a bleak economic future. Around the world multilingualism is a pretty normal state of affairs, it is monolingualism that is peculiar. Just imagine for one moment, if foreign language learning were to take place at a very young age in UK, we could turn around UK monolingualism in one generation as well as benefiting from the enhanced cognitive effects which foreign language learning brings, inevitably leading to better academic results. That would be a result worth shouting about, n'est-ce pas?!
Stella Bataille, Director/Founder ofClub Petit Pierrot,London's Premier French Club which teaches French to children from 8 months old upwards, has adapted the immersion method especially for very young children, and has now produced after 20 years of research and development, an innovative, exciting educational CD of original French songs and rhymes.
Hopefully nurseries and pre-schools will adapt this as one way of engaging children when they are still brainiac genius' and we can still catch up to the rest of the world. If we don't we're setting our future generations up for an unhealthy future.