Conquerors of Knowledge

The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. When I received an e-mail written in English from my 8-year-old Korean student, I was over the moon. Especially when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English – his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me, from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common for parents to voice their concerns on language learning in teacher-parent meetings. Drawing from our experience we find that, for our adult minds, learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies, however, that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere – usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. They take thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

Take it Further:

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but also on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.