The Importance of Choosing Bilingual Education and at an Early Age.

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The Importance of Choosing Bilingual Education and at an Early Age. The above topic has been of great importance to me since I commenced work in the kindergarten department of a bilingual school in Thailand covering Kindergarten to High School children. Many parents ask me 2 questions, “What is the latest age I can put my child in school to learn a second language and what are the benefits of learning a second language at such an early age.” This has inspired me to extend my research in this exciting area of bilingual education. I have observed many new students starting the school at approximately 14 years of age and struggle because at this level of the school, a large majority of subjects are taught in full English. In contrast I have observed young students start the school at 3 years to 6 years and 5 years later are fluent in two languages and translate for the new English teachers starting at school. As I continue research in this area I consider the question – ‘why is this?’ Another reason I have chosen this topic is because of a change of the makeup of the children in my class. Up until last year about 30% of the children were from mixed marriages but now I have approximately 85% of who are from mixed marriages. Out of that 85% only 20% would be speaking 2 languages at home from birth. Sebastian-Galles, Echeverria, & Bosch (2004) calls these children ‘simultaneous bilinguals’. The other 60% of the children have started school out of the necessity to be able to communicate with one of their parents. Sebastian-Galles et al (2004) refers to these children as ‘sequential bilinguals’. These are the children who learn a second language in early childhood. In all of these cases, it is the father who speaks English and is working overseas. He only comes home periodically so the children do not speak much English when they arrive at school. Mum has spoken Thai to them for the 3 years of their life. All of these children hold dual passports to an English speaking country. Grosjean, (2001) refers to these 2 main language acquisitions as ‘simultaneous’ and ‘successive’ The age of before 3 and after 3 was based on McLaughlin’s age criteria (as citied in Grosjean, 2001) . During this review I will firstly examine what happens in the brain when young children learn a 2nd or more languages as compared to an adult’s brain. I will look at what age providesthe optimum window of opportunity to learn another language and then review some main benefits of language learning from a young age. Activity in the Young Bilinguals Brain compared to an adult’s brain. The brain of a newborn has been likened to many things over the years but the analogy that was cited in the article ‘Brain Research in the Foreign Language classroom’, by Begley (1996) likens it to the modern technology of today – computers. “She describes the neurons of the newborn’s mind as unprogrammed circuits of almost infinite potential, comparable to the pentium chips found in a computer before the factory has preloaded the software.” Gennesee (2000) also likens the young brain to a computer.

The experiences that teachers and parents give a child will determine the software that is loaded. The brain of a two year old has twice as many synapses or connections than an adult brain does. If those synapses in the brain are not made in the early years, they will lose them. Gennesee (2000) also says that in the beginning when the initial connections are made they are weak, but with more experience and practice exposure, these connections will strengthen. The Reuters Limited (October 2004) had an article about how learning a second language changes the brain. It states that learning languages at any age will show an increase of grey matter in the left parietal cortex of the brain but it is more pronounced in a young bilingual’s brain. He also states that the grey matter consists of brain cells or neurons. Language stars is a school offering tuition in foreign...
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