Learning a language: Early begun is half done

Whether or not you are a parent, at some point in your life you may have asked yourself the question: “What is the best age to start familiarizing yourself with another language?”

If on the one hand society provides for the teaching of a foreign language to coincide with school-going age, on the other, it is widely believed that it is easier for children to learn languages during their very first years of life. But how much truth is there in all this?

An authoritative answer to the question is provided by Dr. Patricia Kuhl from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. In her video ”Patricia Kuhl: the linguistic genius of babies”, which has gone viral on the web, she sets the age for language learning even lower, bringing it right down to the very first months of life. The ability to learn a new language suffers a sharp decline from as early as the age of seven, while the first months of life are crucial since babies can already clearly distinguish the sounds produced by different languages. From as early as 6 to 8 months their brains are actually capable of processing complex statistical data on what they hear daily, because the brain works in precisely the same way as a database, even going so far as to store sounds that are only perceived occasionally. Babies, moreover, are able to absorb even more information on a given language if it is conveyed to them by a real person: using audio or video recordings in fact leads to far less significant results, or even to no results whatsoever.

All this shows a really basic fact: the earlier we have “a smattering” of a foreign language, the better. Babies and children should therefore be exposed to listening to a foreign language as early as possible, and if it’s spoken by someone they spend time with daily, that works even better. It enables them to learn the new language extremely naturally, spontaneously, and without any incorrect inflexions. And once they become adults, their brain will then have greater elasticity for learning more languages.

If it’s true that it is never too late to learn a new language, then it’s even truer that… it is never too early!



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