Foreign languages: from what age? Baby and family

Whether early English or bilingual kindergarten – there are already foreign language offers for babies. Are they useful?

Learn languages: the sooner the better? Not necessarily true

Babies on colorful blankets, proud parents and a singing educator who took place "All my ducklings" rather "Old McDonald had a farm" warbles. On closer inspection, the crawling group turns out to be an early childhood get-together: English lessons for under one year olds. The little crawlers get to hear songs and sayings in the world language in the group.

A few hours bring nothing

How sensible it is? "Baby English doesn’t really help if the children hear a few poems once a week", says professor Dr. Tanja Anstatt, linguist at the Ruhr University Bochum. The courses advertise with the motto "The sooner the better". But it’s not that simple.

The few hours a week are not enough to activate the structures in the baby brain that it needs to learn the foreign language. So late English is also possible? "Nowadays the idea of ​​the critical time window no longer applies, according to which children can only learn a foreign language particularly easily up to a certain age", so Dr. Daniela Elsner, professor of language teaching research and didactics at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. She and her colleague instead of saying that this is the perfect time to start a bilingual, bilingual Life does not exist.

There is no perfect time

Whether and how a child should learn a language also depends, for example, on the educational offer in the area. "A kindergarten with native speakers as educators can make sense for children from the age of two, because the little ones really hear a lot about the new language and speak it", says Elsner. Every day and with someone who speaks the language correctly.

If a child leaves bilingual kindergarten, it should be able to pick up where it left off at school. However, since there are only a few schools with a corresponding offer in Germany, parents can help differently. "Perhaps a working group with like-minded people can be set up at school", Elsner suggests. English-language children’s films also help not to forget the language.

Before puberty, language learning works differently than later

Advantage of day care center: Now children learn unconsciously, for example by imitating. "That is why they are learning now preferably the pronunciation", says Elsner. A little later, around the age of seven, eight, they consciously open up a language through its rules, i.e. the grammar. "Before puberty, children generally learn languages ​​in a playful way", explains Elsner. Children could learn languages ​​particularly well during puberty, but are often emotionally occupied with other things.

"Important is, that the kids can keep on going", emphasizes the expert. So if the baby is to learn English, it can only do it in a bilingual family. Instead, this is not a sure-fire success, stresses instead: "If children realize that they can get by with one language, they will hardly struggle to express themselves in the other language." Consistency, reading aloud and, if possible, frequent vacations and contacts with the family abroad make the language attractive.

Ideal: Learn from the native speaker

The most important prerequisite for bilingual education to work is authenticity. If both parents speak German, but split into two languages ​​for support purposes, they will have little success. "First, children quickly realize that this is all about learning and block. Secondly, adult English is not always the best", explains Daniela Elsner. An au pair who only communicates with the child in the foreign language can be a good alternative.

In recent years, some studies have shown that children who grow up multilingual sometimes learn to speak more slowly than their monolingual peers. "This is not a sign that something is going wrong in development, it is completely normal", explains instead. Phrases in the language mix also occur frequently during this time. The child cannot always distinguish between the languages. "It usually learns to tell the languages ​​apart at the latest from the age of three and then knows very well who it can talk to and how", Reassures researchers instead. Parents do not have to improve the little ones or practice with their children.

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Christina Cherry
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