Children from birth to seven years of age can learn as many languages as they are exposed to Since it takes on average five to seven years to learn a language, early childhood multilingual programs are crucial for children's multilingual development.
Languages make us who we are and how we see the world, so it is not surprising to know that the first seven years of life are the most important in regards to learning languages and specifically each language’s sounds, called phonemes. Mandarin has 67, English has 44, and Spanish is easier to learn, with only 24.
There are also sensitive periods that we learn. There are three domains of language: the grammar of language. Each domain has its own critical period as follows: phonology the sounds of languages, lexis, the total bank of words and phrases of languages, and morphosyntax, the grammar of languages. Each has its own critical period:
- Phonology (between age 0 and age 6)
- Lexis and collocation (between age 0 and age 10)
- Morphosyntax (between age 0 and age 12).
Language is most important in the first year of life infants learn to discriminate among sounds that are specific to the language(s) that they are exposed to in their environment. At birth, infants are tuned to the sounds of all languages, and their brains are hard wiring for language. Before turning six months old, infants can discriminate among sounds of any language.
Twelve month old toddlers also have a heightened sensitivity to language exposure. When given additional experience with speech sounds from a nonnative language, twelve month old toddlers continue to be able to discriminate among sounds. This period lasts until puberty but at age seven it is difficult for a child who has not been exposed to a language, such as Mandarin, to be in a Mandarin immersion language class. The types of linguistic stimuli infants and children are exposed to help shape the brain and cognitive behavior. Research has called this the Critical Period Hypothesis or CPH. Sometimes we refer to it as the “window of opportunity” or “sensitive period”.
CPH, proposed by Lenneberg in his 1967 book “Biological Foundations of Language.”, states that there is a critical period in life to learn a language. According to the critical period hypothesis, language can be acquired only within a critical period, extending from early infancy until puberty. This is not to say that someone cannot acquire a second language later in life, but this critical period is when humans learn native fluency, much like there home language.
Although puberty, some aspects of language will be learned, but full mastery will not be achieved. The reason behind the critical period is thought to be of a biological (or maturational) nature and related to neurophysiological changes in the brain that allow, for example, the creation of more complex neural networks early in life.
Also, how languages are taught have been studied. A naturalistic language learning approach or language immersion is more effective than foreign language instruction. In a naturalistic philosophy of learning, children learn language through natural and authentic experiences with native speakers and student interactions.
Amici Trilingual Montessori teaches young children in the critical period, Mandarin, Spanish, and English using full immersion and the naturalistic approach along with the Montessori philosophy of education. The languages are taught organically and naturally during the day along with specific areas in the Montessori curriculum, such as Circle Time, and the Language Arts block. The children learn all three languages simultaneously and naturally as many children do in some European countries.
The benefits for our children to learn the three most spoken languages are vast. Being trilingual comes with a whole host of cognitive gains. Researchers have found that trilingual people perform better on standardized tests, especially in math, reading, and vocabulary. Being trilingual exposes an individual to diverse customs, ideas, and perspectives from different cultures. Learning a language is a great way to keep your brain healthy and sharp. Being trilingual can improve a person’s multitasking skills, attention control, problem solving and creativity as it promotes outside-the-box thinking. It can also help improve your memory. A trilingual child will have so many more opportunities in not only future economic and advantages, but also, cognitive benefits that will support their brain.
For more information about how to raise your child trilingual contact us at www.AmiciMontessori.org or 480-336-3364