Encouraging children to learn another language

Sep 2011
Encouraging children to learn another language
When a child's ability to express themselves is enhanced so is their self-confidence

"But I don't need to speak French,  they all speak English!"

Most parents will have heard that plaintive cry from children struggling with their French irregular-verb homework, and it can be a hard one to counter because, of course, millions of people across the globe do speak English as a second language.

So, if our native tongue has, indeed, become the world's unofficial lingua franca, is there any sense in encouraging children to learn another language?

Bernadette James, an English-language teacher based in France, has no doubts on the matter and cites a number of reasons why another language can only be good for children. Firstly, it helps them better understand their mother tongue and helps improve vocabulary. Bernadette said: "I learned more about the English language while studying French than I ever did in my school English lessons!

"I got to understand grammar; my spelling and vocabulary improved and I found I could express myself far more easily and fluidly."

And when a child's ability to express themselves is enhanced there is always a boost to self-confidence and that can only improve their ability to deal with - and relate to - other people both as children and as adults.

Learning a language also gives insight into the culture and history of those people for whom it is a native tongue, Bernadette points out. That can also broaden a child's cultural horizon and stimulate their interest in other peoples and other countries.

Bernadette stressed: "These things are true of all young people learning a second language whether they're in primary schools or studying at degree level. It also applies across the board - regardless of class, race, gender and religion."

Long-term, there is another advantage, too, in that young people equipped with a second language can present themselves as highly attractive propositions in the jobs market.

Bernadette said: "Mention Spanish and one thinks immediately of Spain; but Spanish is the first language for millions of people across South and Central America, too - and many of those countries are part of the world's 'emerging market' and may well turn out to be economic power-houses in the next 15 or 20 years.

The same is true of Russian, Portuguese (as the first language of Brazil) and, of course, the official Mandarin language of China."

And Bernadette added: "Yes, many in the business communities of those countries will speak English but not all business is done in the boardroom. People who can speak the language of factory or mine owners, marketing managers and local officials are going to be very attractive to Western firms seeking to do more and more business in those countries."

There's no doubt that sometimes children can find the learning of other languages a challenge and they might also struggle to see the purpose of such study; but with encouragement and support that challenge will be managed and the benefits could last a lifetime.