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Why teach foreign languages in early years settings?

Here, language expert and Kidslingo CEO, Anna Neville, delves into why learning a second language as a child is so beneficial.

Learning a foreign language is becoming a more prominent topic on the early years agenda, as nurseries, childminders and primary schools are beginning to realise the huge benefits it can bring.

This has been reflected by England’s 2014 curriculum modification that saw the introduction of a second language in primary school, and by Scotland’s one plus two approach to learning languages.

There are numerous benefits to learning a second language, and children take to it much more quickly than you might expect.

Children have an innate ability

This seemingly natural ability to pick up a new vocabulary quickly is often seen in nursery attendees whose first language is not English. Within weeks, many of them can master English words and understand what is being asked of them. Similarly, children who move to another country at a young age pick up the new language far more easily than their parents.

As young children, our brains have far greater plasticity, which means new pathways can be created at an exponential rate. As we age, this amazing ability diminishes and the learning process takes more time and effort.

Even babies who simply hear another language can grow these new pathways and begin to understand different language systems. This helps them to problem solve, which is an essential like skill.

Improving brain structure

Studies have shown clear structural improvements in the brains of bilingual people, as well as demonstrating that learning a second language can stimulate the growth of grey matter. Therefore, starting kids off with languages from an early age can give them an enormous advantage.

Making the grade

According to Judith F Kroll, a professor of Psychology, Linguistics and Women’s Studies at the University of California, studies of youngsters who grew up speaking two languages show that they are usually better at prioritising than monolingual children. They are also more able to focus on a critical task, while ignoring irrelevant information.

Other research has shown that babies raised in bilingual environments develop essential decision-making and problem-solving skills long before they can even speak.

All of this positive research points to the inherent value of learning a second language at an early age.

Learning how language works

When a child learns a second language, they indirectly absorb the mechanics of language. This makes them better at grasping the quirks of English grammar, improves their listening skills and makes them more effective communicators. In Kidslingo classes, the basics such as counting, greetings, emotions and colours are all practised in English before being learnt in French and Spanish.

Increasing cultural intelligence

In a multicultural society, it is very important for children to learn about other countries, cultures and traditions. Learning a foreign language can provide the perfect backdrop for exploring these things and can help children act appropriately in culturally diverse situations. It also encourages them to explore the world around them, rather than just see things from their own perspective.

Taking an inclusive approach

At Kidslingo, we find that a key benefit of teaching a language at a very young age is its inclusivity. We find that despite ability, all children take away something positive from the sessions. Whether they’re verbal, non-verbal, disabled, non-disabled, or speak English as a second language, they all share the common experience of learning something new together.

Using tools to enhance the learning experience

Learning a second language can give children the confidence to express themselves and practise new sounds and words. At Kidslingo, we use a mixture of tactics to achieve this, and often find tools like music, stories, Makaton and visual cues beneficial in making children learn more effectively and listen more attentively.

Music is a very important part of our culture and can be particularly useful in getting to grips with a new vocabulary. It doesn’t just enhance memory recall, but also helps set musical patterns that the child hears but does not yet understand. Consequently, this helps develop the child’s listening skills and helps them to form language.

Stories are another invaluable tool for learning another language thanks to their accessibility and the sharing of common experiences. They convey human themes and topics, irrespective of the language they are written in. This is the whole ethos behind brands like One Third Stories, who teach the gradual introduction of new languages through story books.

With so many educational and life benefits, it’s easy to see why foreign languages are becoming a key part of early years education. To enrich the learning experience of children in your care, contact Kidslingo. To book a free taster class for your setting, or to find your local branch, please visit the website

Kidslingo is a national children’s language organisation that teaches French and Spanish to over 6,000 nursery, preschool and primary school children. It inspires kids to love languages through songs, games, actions, role play and storytelling. 

Do you make teaching a foreign language part of your programme? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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