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A Foreign Language From The Age Of Five?
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A Foreign Language From the Age Of Five?

In the British press today the news is that the House of Lords committee is supporting the approach in the UK that all children should be taught a second language. This follows on from a similar message from the Government Minister in October 2011 that he believes all children should be taught a second language from the age of five.

It is fairly widely recognised in the UK that there has always been an attitude against speaking any other language than English itself. Indeed the number of puplils taking a second language to exam level since 1998 has halved apparently. For sure English is very widely spoken but as I found out when I first went abroad, (just to Germany from England), if you don't speak the local language then even shopping can be difficult. We then moved to Germany with my employer. I was working full time and so learning that second langauge was a major challenge, but my children benefitted enormously as they were effectively immersed in it.

Most advanced countries do now teach a second language, but not all from the age of five. Do you think that starting language learning at this age is a good thing? Haven't the kids at that age got enough to learn? Also where are they going to use the language once they have learnt it?

I would like to suggest that the answer has to be yes they should be taught from an early age - five seems right for the UK as this is when most children start full time school. Children at this young age are so good at learning, without the inhibitions that we more older folks might have - ever been in a language class and been asked that question which you are not prepared for? I have and it can be so embarrassing, that many people just don't start the classes.

One of the clearest examples I experienced of younger children taking to languages was when I first went to learn French (again after so many years away from those school lessons). My teacher was French and had a child of three. Her husband was English and even at that age the child, bless him, was totally bi-lingual. When the teacher asked me a question the child would answer before I could even start to mumble my offering. My teacher also pointed out that at the early ages in language learning children actually learn a language by imitating the speech.

I also think there are more benefits for children when they learn a second language than just the words themselves. If you learn a second language, as we recognised in our article yesterday, it broadens the cultural outlook of children and their empathy with people from other countries. Think also of the level of depth in a language you could attain if you start learning at five. By the time you travel on your own and even live and work overseas you will have a major asset in that second language.

So I am sold on the concept of teaching languages at an early age. I would love to hear from you if you agree with this or whether you disagree and if so why. It would be great also if you could let me know whether your country teaches a second language at the age of five?


Street Talk

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