How children learn foreign languages – Facts and myths

young boy

Children learn foreign languages much easier than adults, their heads are absorbing like a sponge and learning is a natural process in their age. Yes, that is true. Children who learn a language also have their own specific characteristics. Children do not learn the same way as adults, so it is a mistake to expect the effects. Here are the facts and myths that we most often talk about.

Myth: Learning two languages harm the child

Many children in the world learn two languages at home. The child’s mind is separated into both languages and the child learns early when using each language. For example, the child speaks in one with mother and in another with father.

A child in a bilingual family learns two languages just as quickly as other children learn one language. Studies show that the child’s bilingual brain is more developed in the parts responsible for language, memory, and attention. Children who take early childhood education bilingual often perform better than their friend, who only learn one language.

Myth: Children say something in the classroom, laugh, sing loudly and so on. You cant work in these conditions.

You can. It is even necessary. Of course, we are not talking here about a situation where students do what they want and the teacher is unable to do anything. At one of the training sessions I participated in, the speaker pointed out that if there is silence behind the door, then children do not learn. And this is the point itself because, in order to start speaking, you have to sing, repeat etc. The more activities in which students have the opportunity to develop a language, the better, and therefore not always the noise behind the door of language rooms means disorder at work.

Myth: Children learn languages faster and easier than adults

This belief is from the unquestionable successes of migrant children, who are ashamed of their parents by the pace of learning and easy communication with other children. Parents are jealous because they see their children talking with other children while playing, while they still find it difficult to have the simplest conversation.

However, it is not true that children learn faster and easier than adults. Children spend much more time than adults only by listening and using a foreign language. They don’t have to work or study at school. Children’s motivation for learning is stronger – they want to have fun and integrate with other children, while their parents often learn only by economic reason, forced to look for work abroad.

If you compare time spent studying and results, you will find that children do not learn faster than adults. Textbooks are proof of this. Adults learn within a few months what takes a year for their children. Research shows that young people and adults learn faster than children who only play and learn from other youngsters. The adult world requires a much more complex language, so success cannot come as easily as it does for children.


Fact: Correcting errors does not speed up language learning

Research shows that children learn their own language in a way that makes it easier for adults to speak to children. This process of simplification is universal for the users of all languages and is characterized by a slower pace, clearer pronunciation, shorter and less complex sentences, a large number of repetitions and paraphrasing, more frequent control of comprehension of speech, more frequent use of gestures and other visual support

Myth: A foreign language should be trained by a native speaker teacher

Currently, teachers and students have unlimited access to original recordings, television, radio, internet and can use the best pronunciation patterns. And pronunciation is the only area in which a native speaker will certainly be better than other teachers.

A good teacher is not only fluent in a language. A good teacher knows children’s needs and their mental abilities and knows what forms of work are suitable for them. He can create the right atmosphere and learning environment. He understands how children learn a foreign language and help them in this process.

Myth: You should start learning a foreign language as soon as possible

Education should be introduced before the age of 12 to provide children with the opportunity to learn pronunciation. However, a much earlier start of education is only justified if the right conditions are created.

However, contact with a foreign language in the kindergarten gives children a chance to gain positive experiences and develop their motivation to learn for reason other than the duty to pass a subject. These positive experiences can lead to better results in later education.


Myth: Children in classroom only sing and paint, this is not a lesson

The coloring is one of the many activities in which a child is participating. For each exercise, the teacher uses the foreign language – gives instructions, asks questions for illustrations, encourages children to give instructions to the group, describe pictures etc. Songs are an excellent way to learn to speak. They are usually designed in such a way that children repeat a certain grammar structure or vocabulary when singing.

Fact: Early language learning guarantees good pronunciation

Thit is true. The child’s brain and speech organs retain plasticity until the age of about ten years, which is characteristic for the early stages of development. This makes it easier for them to pronounce sounds that do not exist in their native language, which adults can no longer do with such ease.

Research also confirms that children who start learning a foreign language before the age of ten have a much better pronunciation than those who started learning later.

Myth: In order to make your child learn to speak, you can write down his phonetic pronunciation alongside words.

This should not be done at all. At the stage of learning of writing in a foreign language, the child starts to make many mistakes, because usually, the child will already remember this phonetically written version. Secondly, because children learn differently from adults, they do not need to read words to remember their pronunciation. Rather, I encourage you to listen frequently to songs and rhymes.


Myth: Learn at home writing, reading with an 8-year-old kid helps.

The main reason a child attends language classes is that they like them. A child feels well at the lesson and is curious. He works in a pleasant atmosphere, play, sing or even does not feel the work at all. Learning in a home at such young age is a waste of time. It is better to enroll for the course as it will be older.

Myth: After a few lessons, the child should start speaking first words.

For further stages of learning a foreign language, the so-called silence period is the most important. It is a time when the child’s self-confidence begins to understand that the child can communicate in another language and is slowly opening up for its development. Disrupting this period by forcing a child to say something, may result in a blockade that will be difficult to break through at a later stage.

Myth: Children cannot speak only in a foreign language

Children have very well-developed strategies for extracting meaning from the context without relying only on words. They interpret the tone of voice, gestures, and situation and do not pay attention to the strange words they hear every day.

It is difficult for adults to understand that children learn in a completely different way. However, it is worth realizing this, then learning a language will be less stressful for both the child and the parent.

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