We live in a time when there are great efforts being put into bringing the world together on a global level. Thanks to the explosion in the development of telecommunications and means of travel, the world has suddenly become a much smaller place than once thought. Yet, although everything seems easy within reach, there is still one thing that is essential in any kind of cooperation between people: the mutually understandable language of communication.
Without it we are like the people working on the tower of Babylon, all set and ready to work, but unable to communicate our needs. This is why acquiring knowledge of foreign languages is so important if one wants to participate in the process. And if one belongs to a nation whose language is not on the list of so-called ‘world languages’ learning at least one becomes almost a necessity.
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So, there is no doubt, that studying foreign languages is useful and necessary, the question that poses itself is – when is the good time to start learning one?
The natural answer that follows is: as early as possible. But how early in fact is that? Some people feel that children should start learning a foreign language as soon as they start school.
There are some good arguments for this point of view- children, when they are young have almost an unlimited capacity to learn. Their brains are like sponges waiting to soak the knowledge of the world, and as we grow older our ability to learn new things and skills dwindle. Hence the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.
The critique that immediately follows this point of view argues that while it’s true that children have great learning capacities, starting to learn a new language at this point would still be too early because the new language would come in interference with the native language. They feel that children who start school have enough concerns with learning the basic skills of reading and writing in their own language.
That’s why implementing a foreign one at that time would only serve to confuse them and would have a negative effect on the proper acquisition of both languages.
In my opinion, it is never too early to start learning a new language, if in fact it is done with the right approach.
That is to say, children need to be accessed in an appropriate way in order to achieve desired results. By using techniques that incorporate play in the study of language, children wouldn’t feel stressed or confused about learning a language. The way in which to do it is excellently presented on the TV show ‘play and speak’. The show features pre-school children who get together and play various games, while at the same time using English as a means of communication. This is how kids by doing something which they perceive to be fun end up picking up the actual language along the way.
From personal experience, unmotivated and unimaginative teachers are most detrimental to the learning process. That is why i never felt like i learned much of English (which is my foreign language) while sitting in a schoolroom listening to teacher drone on and on. I much rather picked it up from watching tv channels which were in English only and had many interesting cartoons and TV shows which fascinated me as a child. By watching these shows, trying to discover their meaning, i picked up words and expressions without even realizing it.
I feel that we most often wrongly underestimate our children’s potentials and capabilities, when in fact they are our greatest asset. The only problem lies in finding the right approach to deal with them.
Without effective and stimulating teaching programs, performed by qualified persons, the whole argument whether it is too early for children to start learning a new language as soon as they start school, becomes in fact obsolete.
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