The Argument for Learning a Second Language at an Early Age
Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Foreign language education is no longer a foreign concept to today’s professionals. As the world becomes more integrated, it is only a matter of time before one finds themselves confronted by a language that is not their native. Encouraging young children to learn foreign languages, therefore, has become a common policy among many individual nation-states – most likely to prepare themselves, and their future citizens, for the demand for language masteries. However, as a rational being, one cannot take an idea to be good for granted – it is one’s responsibility to investigate and evaluate its validity. In this spirit of rational skepticism, this paper is set out with the purpose to identify the benefits as well as adverse consequences of teaching foreign languages early, and based on these finding to conclude with a judgment on whether or not the practice is reasonably valid. Positive impacts
Over the course of this paper’s research, the authors have come across a substantial number of publications with supporting evidence for learning a second language, especially at an early stage. The paper will divide the principal positive impacts of learning a second language at an early age into four principal categories: the impact on mental development, educational benefits, improved future opportunities, and socio-economic benefits from a macroscopic position. The impact on mental development
Significant evidence from many publications demonstrates that multilingualism–a frequent result of learning foreign languages–has beneficial impact on the physiological development of the brain. In his research, Baker (2001) alludes to the balance theory. This theory argues that multiple languages are separate masses of knowledge, which inhabit the same region of the brain; therefore, the acquisition of a new language would result in the diminishment of the mother tongue (Baker, 2001, p. 163). To debunk this, Baker (2001) states that while having a logical appearance, the balance theory is psychologically invalid, due to the shared nature of many underlying core linguistic functionalities between different languages, essentially granting the human brain the capability to accommodate multiple languages. In other words, different languages share some core functions used in translating linguistic devices into ideas, thoughts, and meanings, and vice versa. Knowing many languages can enhance these functions as the multilingual constantly exercise these functions with multiple languages, giving them an advantage of practice over the monolingual, resulting in a sharper interaction between language devices and their represented ideas. There are researches into the physiological detail whose results provide supporting evidence for the aforementioned argument. Exempli gratia, Mechelli et al. (2004) discovers, through structural brain imaging, that the virtue of being bilingual anatomically changes the brain – bilinguals’ brains possess more grey matter in their language region, with increasing gain as the age of language learning gets earlier (as cited in Tochon, 2009, p. 654). The implication of this expanded physiological capacity for languages, combined with the role of language in effectively every cognitive and academic effort, could serve as the basis to explain the improvement in academic and cognitive skills, which will be explored in detail in the next category. Finally, there is an inherent neurological advantage in learning a new language for early starters: young brains are much more capable at language acquisition compare to older brains. While statistical data have not yet been able to provide a specific age at which the rate of language acquisition declines sharply, observations have shown that there is a clear trend in the decline of language learning capacity as age advances...
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