Children normally are only introduced to learning a second language in secondary schools, around the age of 11 or 12, and even then that may only be an hour a week as they are introduced to only the very basics of the language.
Also, the choice of language is limited – French, Spanish and German tend to be the most common options in schools, while Polish and Urdu are the main languages prevalent in the United Kingdom aside from English. In London alone, over 300 languages are spoken every day by local residents and tourists from around the world.
Could we make more of an effort?
When British families travel abroad, we are often greeted by local nationals who are perfectly capable of speaking in English as well as their mother tongue. While three-quarters of British adults are monolingual (can only speak a single language), over half of EU citizens are bilingual with 38% able to speak English.
The statistics certainly suggest that, as a country, Britain has much room for improvement when it comes to languages. Of course, as English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world with many foreign companies preferring English over their primary language to aid international business, there hasn’t been as great a necessity for Brits to learn a second language.
In a multicultural society with families from all walks of life welcomed into the UK, more and more languages can be heard on the street and in schools. Is there an argument that teaching children a second language from a younger age could be beneficial?
Better communication with other children
Children from immigrant families that have recently arrived in the country may have little to no understanding of English, which can make settling into their new country very hard. When we are on foreign soil and a local makes the effort to speak our language, we are very appreciative and this helps to put us at some kind of ease.
The same certainly goes for children settling into a new country. If other children can speak even just a little bit of their language, simple phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’, can go a long way.
Why families move for their children
Many families leave their country for a better way of life and so as their children have the opportunities that they may otherwise not. It is not uncommon for some local residents in countries that do not benefit from the same financial security as the United Kingdom to rely on charitable donations.
High levels of unemployment/low pay can result in poverty, ill health and orphans reliant on sponsorship programmes in order to get by day by day. This is just one of the reasons why some families may look to make the move to the United Kingdom, with others simply making the move for better career prospects or because their work has taken them over here (therefore making them a migrant and not an immigrant).
Educational benefits of teaching children a second language
As well as being able to communicate with non-English speakers, there are other educational benefits that come with teaching a child a second language. Research shows that children who are taught a second language at an early age perform better on tasks that require focus, problem solving and multi-tasking.
Bilingual children also tend to start reading earlier than their monolingual peers, while learning a second language can have lasting benefits that can include offsetting dementia by as much as six years. This is due to what is called a ‘cognitive reserve’ that is built up in the brain.
With so many benefits of teaching children a second language from an early age, both from a social and educational perspective, have you been convinced to introduce a second language to your child?