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Prince George and other little language learners

Five great reasons why it's never too early to encourage young students in language learning

Prince George and other little language learners

Amongst the thousands of new starters in the UK’s schools this week, it was young Prince George who grabbed the headlines, as hand-in-hand with his dad (how modern!) and in his smart little navy uniform, he gingerly shook the hand of the headmistress of his London prep school and began his educational journey.

There has been much discussion in the media about the variety of subjects HRH will be studying at his new school. Some commentators have questioned whether four year olds really need to be learning ballet, Mandarin and information and communication technology.

Whilst I believe that four year olds should be encouraged to explore the world around them, get dirty and learn through play, as a Primary language specialist I can’t help but feel tremendous joy that our littlest students are being exposed to languages such as Mandarin. Having worked in an international school where children start Mandarin lessons at the age of 5, I have seen first hand how well young learners take to learning a language, putting many adults to shame, myself included!

Here are five reasons why it’s great to start learning a language at a young age:

1.    It has been proven that pupils who learn a foreign language outscore their non-foreign language learning peers in verbal and maths standardised tests. This shows that learning an additional language is a cognitive activity not just a linguistic one.

2.    It gives the brain a work out. The brain loves to be exercised. When young children learn a new language they have to memorise vocabulary and adopt new sound patterns and rules. This helps to strengthen the brain and mental skills. The younger children are better at mimicking new sounds and pronunciation than older children.

3.    Cultural awareness. Young children are ego-centric. Learning another language also involves learning about other countries and people and looking at a world outside of their immediate circle of home and school. This makes them curious and helps to develop them as global citizens of the future.

4.    Fun factor. At a young age lessons can be informal and scaffolded through play-like activities. Young learners aren’t embarrassed about making mistakes as they have not yet become self-conscious. This gives teachers the chance to engage their students with a range of fun activities whereby their students don’t even realise they are having a language lesson.

5.    If a love of languages is fostered early on it encourages pupils to develop their language skills at a higher level. Therefore giving them better career opportunities as they enter into higher education.

Rachel Sutton founded the Facebook page Mrs Sutton Says in 2017 to share her knowledge and experience of teaching in the primary sector in the UK and China