Our brains are like computers with countless programs that help us navigate the various aspects of life through all ages. However, just like computers, as they age, they can become less efficient when it comes to retaining new things. Although learning a second language can be done at any age, this is one reason why children are best suited for it.
It is truly never too early to start teaching your child a second language--in fact, the earlier she's introduced to another language, the easier it is to master. The way a child's brain develops makes language learning one of the earliest skills they can master--before they can crawl, hold a toy, or speak, they can hear--and their brains can process and retain the sounds and words they're exposed to.
Grocery shopping with your children is sometimes tough simply because there is so much to ask about and question in a shop so full of items! One way to make the grocery shopping trip fun for your child while also teaching them a valuable skill is to use the store as an object lesson for learning Spanish words. Children learn very quickly but usually appreciate concrete items they can see and touch, so the grocery store and food preparation time can be wonderful opportunities for learning.
There are numerous benefits of learning a second language early in life. Children who are consistently exposed from a very young age to the sounds of a foreign language are more likely to achieve native or near-native fluency in adulthood and have a much easier time learning other languages later in life. Research shows that these children also tend to have stronger verbal, cognitive and analytical skills – giving them a head start in school.
Simply put, learning a second language boosts brain power, even if the child does not achieve total fluency.
This past week, data from the Pew Research Center highlights the discrepancy between language learning in the United States compared to that in Europe. An average of 92% of the European population is taught a foreign language at a young age, compared to only 20% in America. The reasons for this may be multi-faceted, including:
1. English is frequently spoken throughout the world as compared to most of the European languages.
English is described as the language of globalization. There is not as much pressure for American students to have to learn a foreign language if in many places English is regularly spoken. This is in contrast to other parts of the world, where one can very often expect to be greeted in a different language in a neighboring country. Even within a single European country itself, there may be more than one language as a country's official language. In Europe, it is common to study even more than one foreign language, with this being required in school for at least a year in over 20 European countries.
2. There's no uniform standard for foreign language acquisition in schools in the U.S.
National standards for test-taking in Europe incorporate the importance of foreign language acquisition. On the other hand, no such national standard exists in the U.S., where requirements are generally set at the state or district level. In the United States, the rates of foreign language study vary to as low as single-digit percentiles in some states. Even the higher percentages of states mandating foreign language study lag behind the countries with the lowest percentages in Europe.
3. Timeframe for learning a foreign language in Europe versus the U.S. is generally different.
In Europe, students often begin studying their first foreign language in school between the ages of 6 and 9, in contrast to the United States where foreign language is typically not taught until at least Middle School or High School. Multiple studies have shown that language acquisition is overall easier the younger one is.
Many prominent voices stress the importance of foreign language acquisition. Memoirist Eva Hoffman described loss of multilingualism as "the loss of a living connection". Studies increasingly display the importance of "cultural intelligence" in our increasingly globalized society. As the Livni article summarizes for the importance of learning another language:
As parents, probably one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the gift of being able to communicate in a second language. Why not give your children a subscription to the #1 learning program for foreign language for kids, Little Pim? Subscription plans are available for a single language as well as the option to access all 12 of our included languages. Experience the wonders of a gift that can last a lifetime.
Sources: Devlin, Kat. Most European students are learning a foreign language in school while Americans lag. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/06/most-european-students-are-learning-a-foreign-language-in-school-while-americans-lag/: Accessed 08/13/18.
Livni, Ephrat. Only 20% of US kids study a language in school—compared to 92% in Europe. Available at: https://qz.com/1350601/foreign-languages-are-studied-by-just-20-of-kids-in-the-us/: Accessed 08/13/18.
By Alexis Dallara-Marsh
It's amazing how today's modern research and brain imaging technology shows how multilingualism actually strengthens the brain. In an article published by Mindshift accompanied by the video below by Lisa LaBracio for Ted-Ed, we learn that people who speak more than one language actually have a higher density of gray matter that contains most of the brains neurons and synapses.
The study also compares the differences between learning a new language as a child vs. adult.
Scientists hypothesize that adults tend to acquire a new language using their left brain, so they approach problems in a more rational, detached way. The benefits of learning a new language are endless and it's indeed refreshing to be reminded that we are starting our kids out with an advantage by teaching them a new language at a young age. To learn more about this subject, check out the video below:
We recently shared this infographic by BilingualKidsSpot on our Facebook page and loved it so much that we thought we'd share it on our website's blog. As parents, aunts, uncles, and more, we’re genuine believers in the importance of learning a foreign language at an early age.
Growing up in a multilingual household, I experienced first-hand the benefits of multilingual exposure at an early age, learning English, Gujarati, and Spanish simultaneously. When I joined the Little Pim team, I quickly grew passionate about educating new parents and early education teachers about the many benefits of raising bilingual and multilingual children.
Our founder, Julia Pimsleur, inspired by her own bilingual childhood, created Little Pim for her children to have the same opportunity to learn a foreign language. Little Pim is the first comprehensive at-home program that can be effectively used by parents and teachers even if they don't speak a foreign language.
We love seeing the benefits of bilingualism shared across the web as it's our mission to spark inspiration, remove obstacles and provide encouragement and support to make learning a second language easy and enjoyable for kids. We hope you're inspired to introduce your child to a new language and if you need help along the way, please feel free to contact us!
Recently on Fox 5 NY, the International Academy of New York discussed the benefits of raising bilingual children, sharing that their students spend around 40% of their week functioning in either Mandarin or Spanish. Research shows that some of the benefits of raising bilingual children include:
- Children are much more focused and less distracted
- They are more able to switch tasks spontaneously
- They have more flexible and nimble brains
- By middle school, bilingual kids typically outperform their peers in both math and verbal standardized tests
The interview also explains that human contact is important when teaching children a new language. Singing, reading, and talking with your children in the new language and taking children to cultural events also help encourage language learning. At Little Pim, we believe introducing your child to a new language at an early age can give your child many advantages. The best time to learn a language is under the age of 6. Don't miss the window of opportunity when it's easy for them to learn. Invest in their future…A little language goes a long way.
What do snow leopards, African wild dogs, black rhinos, and the Arikara language of the North Dakotan indigenous people have in common? They are all endangered. Just as species’ extinctions threaten the food chain and thereby the ecosystem, language extinctions hurt cultural diversity and thereby our society. To best understand the harsh reality of language extinction, we should investigate some statistics. While differentiating between unique languages and dialects, or just variations of the same language, is very difficult, researchers agree there are between 5,000-7,000+ languages alive today. Studies project that up to 50% of these languages will die out by the end of the century. Some even say the figure is higher at 80%, That is one language dying every few months! This slow and steady leak of linguistic and cultural diversity must be plugged for the sake of our children gaining the exposure to different thoughts and ways of life- exposure that stimulates appreciation and innovation. Admittedly, we, here at Little Pim, do not teach endangered languages, nor have we discussed them in prior blogs. We do, however, always hope to impart that a language is:
- Powerful in the classroom, in the workplace, and on the street
- Empowering in its ability to help cultivate creativity, cultural awareness, problem-solving skills, and pride in one’s roots
- Effectively important to personal and societal growth
In spreading this message in the past (as we will continue to do in the future), we hopefully indirectly made the case for the preservation of dying languages. Additionally, in teaching what are currently actively used languages, we aim to prevent their downfall into the endangered category one day. Yet, today, in this article, we will take a firmer stand for endangered languages, giving them a voice that might otherwise soon be taken away. It is with this voice that endangered languages might return from the edge of extinction.
It is with power in numbers that we can spread the word and reach someone in a position to change an endangered language’s course, so share this if you like the rest of the article. I will explain how we classify levels of endangerment, expound on why you and your family should care, and share what YOU can do to create a better future in which we maintain cultural diversity and awareness.
How do we know when a language is dead?
There are two main measurements of a language’s vitality, the number of speakers and the number of avenues of use.
Number of Speakers
Many languages can be said to have few speakers, but the word “few” is loose and open to interpretation. Determining the exact number of speakers of a language, however, allows linguists to be specific in distinguishing between levels of endangerment. Arikara, which you may recall is in our backyard in North Dakota, is a critically endangered language, with only 3 speakers still alive while the Cherokee language spoken in Oklahoma is classified as a vulnerable language, with only 1,000 speakers.
Number of Functions
The number of functions a language takes on, whether that be in prayer, in scripture, in school, in ceremonies, etc. can quantitatively represent a language’s vitality, because the more sectors of life the language is involved in, the more spoken it must be, and the more it veers away from the edge of extinction.
Some other factors linguists consider with regards to a language’s vitality are the age range of speakers, the number of speakers adopting a second language, the population size of the ethnic group the language is connected to, and the rate of migration into and out of the epicenter of the language.
Why do we care?
In history, conquered civilizations have had to adopt the language of their conqueror in order to fit into their social structure and economy. This is the case because language is so integral to a culture. From writing literature, carrying out rituals and practicing religion to voting in elections, all the human interactions associated with a culture involve written or spoken word. Effectively when a language dies, the culture associated with it dwindles away as well. If 50%-90% of languages die within the century, 50%-90% of existing cultures will likely die as well.
Many of these cultures that will die out only possess oral histories, so we will lose out on the knowledge they have gained from years and years of experience. Even if some of the cultures whose languages die have been documented, without active speakers, their thoughts and practices will likely be left behind in favor of the ones possessed by the dominant cultures and languages. Accordingly, our future society will lack in a diversity of thought and practice due to a lack of cultural diversity. Not only do we lose diversity of culture and thereby thought when languages die, but also when people conform to speaking one language, as is the case with English in the business world. If we continue along this path, we will become a monolingual, culturally homogenous society. In such a society, people might communicate efficiently because they speak the same language, but creativity would be strangled and progress slowed.
What can we do about it?
To prevent the fate of becoming a uniform society, we must recognize that cultural exchange is a two-way street. People speaking endangered languages are learning other languages to be able to interact with members of their extended community. While it may be hard for us to learn endangered languages, we can educate ourselves on which ones are endangered and why, learn about the cultures the endangered languages are from, and encourage their preservation. For example, the Arikara people were originally a semi-nomadic community that expertly harvested corn and tobacco. This mastery of the land gave way to power over other groups living in the plains until smallpox hit. Would this knowledge of the land past on from generation to generation in their language be lost in translation if the language died? Time will unfortunately tell.
Moreover, to avoid one major language from pushing out the others in the future, English-speaking people could learn other languages to communicate with non-English-speaking people, tapping into a whole wealth of knowledge they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We cannot become complacent just because English is the “language of business.” Little Pim can open your child’s eyes to these other languages and vibrant cultures in the click of a button… literally. Check out our new iOS app!
Live in a Spanish-speaking community? Try our Spanish for Kids program.
Want to know more than the words for French foods on the bistro menu? Try our French for Kids program.
“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Whether coding courses should be offered as an alternative to foreign language classes in highs schools’ core curricula is the subject of great debate among legislators. To make my position undoubtedly clear early on in this post, I urge our leaders to vote against a bill that allows coding to substitute foreign language learning. As an intern at a foreign language learning company, my bias is evident. However, I will present irrefutable support to my position on the matter to show you I don’t speak out of self-interest but rather popular interest.
Before I delve into why I vehemently disagree with the proposed course of action, I must qualify that I understand the motives behind the bill. With our president using Twitter as his own media outlet, Facebook allowing cute images of puppies and simultaneously devastating snapshots of war and terrorism to reach millions in seconds, and posting videos to YouTube becoming a career path, I do concur that our world grows ever more dependent on technology. I also understand that this dependency on technology implies a demand in the global economy for individuals educated in engineering and computer science. With only 4% of people graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in the US, compared to 31% in China, for example, it logically follows that other global superpowers are fulfilling this demand in the job market. To become more competitive in the job market and contribute to technology-related fields of the global economy, US citizens must be better educated in the associated areas of study. For these reasons, I understand the desire to integrate coding into the core curriculum.
While I recognize the need for coding classes, I do not understand how they can be viewed pedagogically as comparable to foreign language classes and therefore be offered in lieu of them. Java and C++ are languages in that a combination of good diction and syntax allow for expression. However, these coding languages
- Only consist of approximately a hundred words (Little Pim can teach you 250 more in the foreign language of your choosing)
- Are not spoken
- Don’t underpin a society’s rich cultural history
These qualities that differentiate coding languages from foreign languages may seem unimportant to a decision about the proposed education bill, but they are actually the very reason we must say no to the bill!
1. Word Count
Learning the thousands of words of a foreign language requires the brain to become flexible and switch between vocabulary, grammatical structures, and accents. These skills developed to speak foreign languages are believed to be responsible for bilinguals and multi-linguals divergent thinking, or creativity. The fact that coding languages have significantly fewer words than foreign languages means the skills required to jump between languages, skills that translate to divergent thinking and improved creativity, are less developed. Why should you care? Coding is integral to a successful career in technology-related fields, but creativity is equally imperative in technological innovation. Steve Jobs may have been able to program Apple software, but he also needed the creative mind to come up with product ideas and marketing strategies. Without this creativity, he wouldn’t have been as successful. Thus, foreign languages, in cultivating creativity, are just as important in training people valuable to the tech space as coding classes. Moreover, creativity is appreciated in many other fields, too. Thus, to deprive children of foreign languages, effectively limiting their creativity, is detrimental to the US’ position among tech powers, like not having coding classes at all.
2. Spoken Word
Coding has become important, because our society is so technology dependent. Accordingly, many of us have grown more screen-facing than people-facing in our jobs and daily lives. Changing the foreign language requirement to permit coding in place of foreign languages only reinforces this screen-facing culture, which endangers the quality of our face-to-face interactions and children’s people skills. Tech companies might need coders to build products, but they need to know their consumer in order to create desirable products. Surveys and stats are only so telling of consumer response. Face-to-face interactions, where you can see body language and hear intonation can be far more informative. Thus, successful tech companies also require people-facing individuals. These people skills are acquired through conversation, like those had in foreign language classes. Once again, foreign language classes are as necessary in properly educating individuals to enter the tech space as coding.
3. Cultural Awareness
There is a horrible stigma surrounding Americans that we are culturally unaware and self-centered. With English as the language of business, we are rarely forced to accommodate others linguistically. This unaccommodating nature has leaked into our service industries, like tourism, and beyond, tainting our global image. Foreign languages force students to acquaint themselves with a different culture. The AP foreign language examinations offered to high school students who have taken the course test both language and cultural knowledge. Having taken AP French, I can say that the curriculum truly does touch on culture too. We read French literature, discussed historical events, learned of famous chefs and characteristically French dishes, compared the French educative system to the American one, and more. The class taught me a lot, but most importantly that language is merely a window into culture. With this in mind, coding keeps the curtain over that window, bolstering the negative perception of Americans’ cultural awareness. Furthermore, in a globalized economy, cultural awareness, achieved through foreign language classes, not coding, is more and more important to potential employers, including tech companies.
“…allowing coding to replace foreign languages may create more programmers, but runs the risk of letting those programmers be less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware.”
The fact that coding languages have fewer words, aren’t spoken, and don’t lay the foundation for a society’s cultural background may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet, these aspects of coding entail that coding languages don’t heavily improve creativity, don’t better interpersonal skills, and don’t make coders more culturally aware. Foreign languages, unlike coding, enhance all of these qualities, which are desirable to tech employers and all employers, in fact. Therefore, allowing coding to replace foreign languages may create more programmers, but runs the risk of letting those programmers be less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware.
“In trying to find a solution to the fact that America is behind other countries in the tech space, the proposed bill creates more problems in the form of less well-rounded graduates.”
Moreover, if the same amount of money is allocated to foreign languages while coding classes, which involve very expensive equipment, are included under that umbrella, even less money will go towards foreign language classes. With smaller budgets, foreign language classes will likely have higher student teacher ratios, potentially less enthusiastic teachers, and less immersive curricula. Studies, (like the one in the following article: https://www.thespec.com/news-story/7460958-a-way-to-teach-babies-second-language-if-parents-only-speak-one/), have shown there is a direct correlation between these qualities of foreign language classes and students’ mastery of the language. Effectively, passing the bill wouldn’t only result in less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware programmers but also less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware foreign language students, meaning all students suffer. In trying to find a solution to the fact that America is behind other countries in the tech space, the proposed bill creates more problems in the form of less well-rounded graduates.