As a child living of one year, with American mother and Portuguese father, Jayme Simoes became fluent in both languages. However, soon after moving to Chicago, Jayme lost almost all of memory of Portuguese because English prevailed. Now married and a father, Jayme decided to raise his toddler son, Macus, to be a bilingual. Even before Macus was born, Jayme played Portuguese songs and poetry. From the child's earlier days, he began teaching him Portuguese. "At bath time, we speak in Portuguese, read him stories in Portuguese, listen to Portuguese folk music together," Jayme says. "In Portuguese, he can count, say 'hello' and 'goodbye' (ola and adeus), 'up high' and 'down low' - para cima and para baixo." (Gardner) As the world has been culturally mixed, parents' desire of raising bilingual children is getting bigger. And also, the world increasingly values the people, who are able to communicate in more than one language. Then, is early second language education necessary? Is it important to learn a second language? In fact, childhood second language education is necessary because many studies, examples of advantages of bilingualism and scientific evidences have proved it. This paper includes how much better it is to learn a new language in the childhood, how it is better, how it affects the brain, and furthermore what advances there are when they grow up with communicating skills in other languages fluently. Thus, I will deal with benefits and advantages to those who take the time to learn a second language and some wrong perceptions of learning a second language.
First of all, even when learning the first language, there is critical period for learning that language. The episode of a girl in the United States proved this point. In 1970, the social worker in California visited a home, where the father and his daughter, Genie, lived. The social worker found out that the father had kept her in isolated place and even abused her during childhood. Genie had spent daytime in a child's potty seat. At night, whenever she had tried to sound out, her father beat her. After she escaped from her father, she spent a few years in extensive rehabilitation programs, such as speech and physical therapy. However, her language ability was not like normal children. As an adult, she speaks in short, mangled sentences, such as "Big wood" and "high sky"(Santrock). This exactly shows when language develops.
German and Italian scientists have proved the critical period that is a necessity for a human being to acquire a language. Their studies show that childhood is the best time for studying second language as well as native language. Co-author Stefano Cappa, head of the psychology faculty at the San Raffaele Vita-Salute University in Milan says, "The younger, the better. In our investigationâ€¦ our brain seems to have the need for additional resources when a language is learned late. This doesn't happen when a language is acquired since birth or at a very early stage"(Lorenzi) And also, Mr. Cappa emphasizes that the finding does not mean like an impossible fluency of a person who has learned second language in adult age, yet it means that the person needs more effort that treats second language in a different way from the native language.
The bilingual children's ability to differentiate between native and second language could be also arguable. The supporters of monolingual children claim that bilinguals at an early age cannot differentiate between two languages, which lead confusion. Code mixing that switches back and forth between languages can occur very often to bilingual children. There is an interesting thing that the bilingual children do. That is, when they do the code mixing, they exactly notice themselves that they are confused. Differentiating between two languages is just up to time and after all, the bilingual children get over the code mixing. Therefore, this clearly represents that bilingual children are able to make the two languages separated. (Houwer)
Study findings confirm the advantages of bilingualism in childhood. Psychologist Ellen Bialystok, Ph.D., of York University tested 137 bilingual (French & English and Chinese & English) and monolingual children (English) of 4 to 5 year olds. The study was aimed at recognizing if bilingual children have more progression in written language than monolingual children. According to psychologist Ellen Bialystok, "the children were given two word tests that assessed their understanding of the symbolic function of the letters."(APA news) By comparing the level of the scores that the two groups recorded in the examination, Dr. Bialystok concluded that, by four, bilingual children have progressed more than monolingual children in understanding general properties of the symbolic function of written language. By five, they are more advanced than monolinguals and bilinguals who have learned only one writing system in understanding specific representation properties, even in English. (APA news) Through this study, it is obvious that bilingual children not only have an advantage of using more than one language, but also outstanding ability in written language.
Benefits of bilingualism are not limited to linguistic perspective. A becoming bilingual can make a benefit to boost brainpower. Normally, bilingual people are able to ignore distractions while performing tasks that require switching mindset much easier than monolingual people. According to the study of London's Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, this is because of specialty of bilingual person's brain.(Ramstack) The human brain is divided into two parts; gray and white. The gray matter, which is linked to language, memory and attention, in the bilingual person's brain is denser than monolingual person's to be easier to allow for greater language retention. Thus, bilingual people can switch easily between the two or more tasks depending on the situation.
Also, there is another benefit of bilingualism. Rhys Byrne who goes to the Sydney Japanese School speaks Japanese as well as most 10 year olds Japanese children even though he has never been to Japan. Being excited he says, "If I go to Japan one day I've got a way to speak to people,"(Giglio) He is also familiar with Japanese cultural custom. Experts state, "Not only does bilingualism improve a child's lateral thinking and cultural awareness, they say, but it's also a distinct advantage in the local and international job markets."(Giglio) In addition, bilingual children have cognitive agility. University of Melbourne linguistics specialist Professor Michael Clyne says, "Children become more divergent thinkers. So if they can't solve a problem one-way, they will try another,"(Giglio) Consequently, an opportunity of learning another language allows children to have an infinite potentiality beside a language itself.
Does learning a second language in childhood provoke the disorder and delay in learning language? Many speech therapists and medical doctors ask parents of children who grow up with more than one language to stop using two languages. They assert that hearing two languages will confuse the children and lead a serious problem in learning language. However, there is no evidence that is related to the disorder and delay in acquisition language. All over the world, many children who speak more than two languages are growing up well without any symptoms of the disorder and delay in language. Thus, there is no relation between learning a second language in childhood and linguistic problems. (Houwer)
Some people have suspicious opinion about dealing with the necessity of learning second language. A senior lecturer in education, Green Simon seems fairly pessimistic about learning a second language. He said "We know that second language learners already have 'linguistic competence' in another language, but the usefulness of this is questionableâ€¦" Also, he thinks that learners certainly try to apply their existing linguistic knowledge to the new language, but it can be a hindrance rather than a help. However, this is absolutely a thought in the old times. Today, we live in the global world where is mixed with various races and cultures. In other word, learning a second language will help to increase understanding and compassion for other cultures. This can take people out of their imprinted mindset and then expose them to customs of an entirely different group of people. This view of the world will take people into a deeper understanding of how other people think. Thus, learning a second language can operate as a powerful tool to remove stereotypes. As well, as increase of the global marketplace, ability of speaking a second or even third language almost takes a place as a requirement of the job seeking professional. Especially, for people who deal with global clients, the ability to communicate with them in their own language improves both the quality of the relations and the ability of the business to meet their wants. Businesses regard that a person who can speak a second language as a valuable asset. Thus, usefulness of a second language is not a questionable thing. From now on, learning a second language is not an option, but essentiality.
To sum up, some people doubt why early second language education is desirable and what is the worth of this. However, there are so many benefits to answer these questions. There is critical period for learning language and this period is usually childhood. In the childhood, their brain activity is so active. Thus, accepting a second language is easier than learning as an adult. According to several researches, there is no disorder or side effect of learning a second language. Such as these concerns are just myths. For children, becoming bilingual has so many benefits to linguistic perspective and dealing brainpower which can ignore distraction when they perform multiple tasks. Moreover, when they grow up with a perfectly acquired second language, there will be so many better opportunities for making friends in different races or ethnicities who speak different language other than English, and furthermore, so much better job opportunities, especially for the companies that focus on their oversea business.
Marilyn Gardner. "Bringing up baby bilingual." August 27, 2003. Csmonitor.com. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0827/p11s02-lifp.html
Michelle, Giglio. "Languages as Second Nature" 16 June, 2003. 26 November. 2003. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/document
Annick De Houwer. "Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations." July, 1999. Cal.org. Retrieved from http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/earlychild.html
Rossella, Lorenzi. "Children Make Better Bilingual" 6 January. 2003. 27 November. 2003. Retrieved from http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20030106/language_print.html
APA news. "Bilingual Children Understand Written Languages Sooner Than Monolingual Children, Study Finds: Fluency in a Foreign Language Could Help Children Master Reading Faster." (N/D). Foreignwivesclub.com. Retrieved form http://www.foreignwivesclub.com/pages/articles/art1.html
Vanessa Ramstack. "The bilingual advantage". April 14, 2011. Mndaily.com. Retrieved from http://www.mndaily.com/2011/04/14/bilingual-advantage
John, Santrock. 6th ed. Children. University of Texas: McGraw-Hill, 2000