Americans have a bad reputation when it comes to speaking foreign languages. The character who thinks the best way to be understood in a foreign country is to shout louder in English is a stock comedy figure. But things are changing in a changing world. Although a country’s educational system takes a long time to turn, more and more parents want their children to learn to communicate in at least one other language.
Advantages of Bilingualism
There are plenty of reasons why parents should encourage their children to learn a foreign language.
- It stimulates key parts of developing brain which enable fluency of thought and expression, so that not only the foreign language but also English skills are improved and made more natural.
- Bilingual children regularly score better than average in standard tests, due perhaps to the increased flexibility in their thinking. They tend to have better problem solving skills, and a greater ability to think critically.
- The immersion in another culture which a second language makes possible broadens the capacity to appreciate and enjoy diversity.
- Employment opportunities are much greater at home and abroad for people who have fluency in another language.
The sooner a child is exposed to a new language, the more natural will be the learning process. All this may be easy to achieve in a bilingual household, but how can the average parents, with only one language between them, set their children on the road to linguistic success?
Your children’s school is the place where the bulk of their language tuition will take place. You may not speak another language yourself, but that does not mean that you can simply ‘leave it to the experts.’ Pay at least as much attention to the way languages are taught as to any other key subject.
Meet the teachers and go to any information sessions that the school arranges for parents. Make sure that you understand the principles behind whatever course is being used. Ask questions about how you can support the school work with activities at home.
The earlier the better, so don’t be afraid to challenge your preschool and kindergarten staff about exposing your children to other languages. There are programs that they can use, or you may find that there is a specialist toddler or preschool class in your area.
Although true bilingualism is rarely acquired after childhood, it is quite possible for teenagers to acquire working fluency in another language. The most effective route is probably through a time of immersion in the language. For instance, you could look at summer camps where the activities are totally arranged around exposure to a new language, or programs of student exchanges.
Better still, actually spending time in a different country while being immersed in the language makes the whole process more natural and emphasizes the relevance of the language to culture and life generally. Nacel Educational Travel offers a wide range of opportunities for young people to study abroad, from summer camps to a whole academic year in a foreign school. Their website www.nacel.org has a comprehensive list of the options.
Even without opportunities for immersion in another language, you can make your home a language learning environment.
Take an interest in your children’s language classes, and get them to teach you something about the new language every day.
Build up a connection with the culture being opened up. If your child has particular passions in life, try to find out together how those things work in the country where the language is spoken.
You can get videos and books in most major languages quite easily. The internet is a good resource, as with a bit of research you can find shows from around the world. Music is another great way to learn, as words stick better in the mind when associated with a tune.
No Time Like the Present
Across the country, the importance of language study, with all its advantages for personal, social, and academic advancement, is being recognized. It can be disconcerting for parents who received little encouragement to study languages themselves. They can feel out of their depth and at a loss in the business of helping and stimulating their children to study and learn. But learning language is one of the most natural processes in the human brain, and with a little encouragement and the right exposure it will open your children’s minds to a new discovery of their potential.
Jean Burdin Jean BURDIN was born and raised in Rodez, South of France, where Nacel headquarters are based. Jean began his carrier at Nacel back in the early 1990’s, after spending 6 years as Chief Accountant for a big import group on the Reunion Island. Having young kids that needed a good education, Jean and his wife Florence decided to head back to Rodez to be near the family. That’s when he joined Nacel as CFO. He became CEO of the group ten years later and has developed the group activities since then. Under his leadership the group has expended dramatically reinforcing its position as first educational travel group in France and maybe in Europe. Jean BURDIN is a graduate of the SUP DE CO TOULOUSE where he holds a master degree in Finance as well as the equivalent of an Accountancy PhD.