IF NOT NOW, MAYBE NEVER…
Waiting for the right time
As the saying goes; the most difficult language you’ll ever learn is your second one. So why not skip that altogether, and learn two languages from the start?
Once a child has already mastered — or is actively using one language — adding another language isn’t the same as learning both languages simultaneously from birth. There are many reasons to expose a child to a foreign language after infancy. Among them: moving to another country or taking advantage of a foreign speaking baby sitter. Or maybe you just didn’t think about raising your first child multilingually, but want to do so with your second (which incidentally gives your first child the opportunity to learn along with the new baby.)
Whatever the reason, the sooner you begin, the better. As a reference, based on visitor registration on this web site, we see clearly that the older the child, the less likely they will start learning a new language.
Nowadays children between the age of 7 and 12 are called ‘tweens.’ This is just one indication of how children’s lives have changed; they are growing up earlier and becoming teens before their time. Although their brains retain plasticity, tweens spend significant amounts of time at school, doing homework, as well as engaging in all sorts of hobbies like sports and music. Adding to the challenges of tweeners are their social preferences. Kids this age are more interested in doing what their friends are doing — which is unlikely to be learning some obscure language.Thankfully, the first years of life are free from this sort of peer competition, but once you hit the tween years, it becomes a primary issue.
Another difficulty in learning a language for tweeners is that literacy skills are extremely important in the majority language, and many parents want to concentrate on refining those, rather than adding another language.
During the teenage years, parents consider it a major victory if they get their kids to do anything they tell them. So adding another language, unless it’s part of the school curriculum, falls too far down the priority list to have a chance. You may think it’s better to simply wait until adulthood. But we all know what happens then — and how many of us wish we could speak another language?
The bottom line: Don’t put it off! The ‘perfect time’ will probably never arrive. Kids of all ages can learn another language, but every day that goes by means that it will require a bit more diligence and motivation.
- If you have children who already speak one language but you want to add another, look at tips for helping late learners.
- What is a language system, and why does your family need it?
- Take a look at the first 10 steps to the road of raising multilingual children.
- The lowdown on pros and cons of being multilingual.
- Once and for all — dispel the myths and misconceptions about multilingualism