Learning a second language from an early age is highly beneficial cognitive development of a child. Among the great advantages of learning a second language as early as possible and using it in any daily activity, we find that the children are not only capable of communicating in said language with enough self-confidence and ease to consider themselves bilingual, but they are also able to associate concepts more easily and develop their concentration and memory skills. Learning a second language during childhood also helps assimilating other languages with more ease and, furthermore, promotes creativity and critical thinking, as well as the ability to apply better solutions to the problems they may encounter during their growth.
Language immersion from an early age: the best method to achieve a high degree of communicative proficiency
Studies show that, in order to master a language, it is necessary to learn it in a social context in which the child is exposed to vital stimuli and events. If this is done before the age of five, when 85% of the child’s brain is developed, the probability of success increases.
‘One of the advantages of starting learning a language as early as possible is the possibility of learning it in a natural way in a stage in their lives when the brain is more maleable and receptive to learning’, assures Mr Rochester, Early Years teacher at The British School of Barcelona. Mr Rochesters explains how at our international school we immerse children in the English language starting at the age of three: ‘From the very first day the child enters through that door, English is the only language we use: from welcoming them, to playtime, to music, to story time, etc. At first, we talk to them slowly, using a lot of body language and facial expressions; we also take part in their games, applying a system of repetition and reinforcement. Obviously, for the first two or three days, the child feels a little awkward, but they soon adapt to their new dynamic without a problem’.
Balancing two languages is not a hindrance
Contrary to popular belief, learning a second language from a very young age does not affect a child’s communication skills in their native language. ‘We have not observed this happening,’ says Ms Martin, Early Years coordinator at BSB Castelldefels campus. ‘What is really important is that the child understands in what context they should use each language and be through with the language they use at home and at school. Children understand it in a very easy way and learn to manage language exchange in a natural way.’
This holistic and immersive system, applied to all daily activities, makes it easier to learn the new language and for it to flow spontaneously and quickly, so that the student deepens their knowledge of English as they grow. During this process, the specialist admits that it is absolutely normal for children to make mistakes when they start speaking English. ‘Children are less embarrassed than adults, so they are less afraid of making mistakes,’ says Mr Rochester. ‘Furthermore, they are immersed in a learning environment, where error is precisely part of that process to progress and learn.’
In fact, environment plays a major role in achieving language immersion. From our specialist English-speaking teachers qualified in Early Years, to our indoor and outdoor spaces where we take care of the pedagogical aspect in detail, children have multiple opportunities to express themselves creatively in English.
Families are essential in this process
Complicity with families is a determining factor for The British School of Barcelona and it is part of our comprehensive support program, which we make available to those families who do not speak English. Ms Martin explains: ‘We work very closely with the families and we get to know the child’s environment and their interests very well.’ This allows specialists to fully personalise the child’s learning and design activities that will facilitate the acquisition of the language through play and everyday activities. ‘We organise workshops and information sessions in both languages and we also provide resources to families so that they can help their children continue learning at home.’ She adds that ‘as we integrate families into student learning, they also acquire a deeper understanding of how the school works, as well as the British curriculum that we teach.’