After many years of educating children, there is no doubt in my mind that starting them off with a bilingual education at an early nursery age can have enormous benefits to their development. Aged three, a child’s mind is like a sponge, it can absorb new information presented to it more easily than an older child, and therefore is better equipped to assimilate a second language, as it is not yet conditioned by previous learning. The younger the child, the easier it is.
The beauty of starting early is that you have pretty much a blank sheet of paper to work with, so whatever your nationality is, or whichever language you speak at home, it is easier. If your child only speaks one language with you and you give him or her a bilingual education this can help to acquire an additional language as part of a natural process.
Immersing your child in a second language on a daily basis at an early age not only helps the child to become proficient in this second language but also opens doors to other opportunities.
Children with a bilingual education are more adaptable and they tend to have a broader outlook and greater awareness of different races and nationalities. They become more understanding of others, more tolerant and more aware of the world in general, while also gaining self confidence and a sense of responsibility to themselves and to others. Language is not just about learning sets of words and grammar, it is also learning about another culture.
In a world that is constantly changing, communication is becoming increasingly important. Children who are able to communicate with a variety of cultures are the ones who will have more advantages in life.
And there are some practical and cognitive benefits too. Introduced at an early age, a bilingual education has been proven to help develop the brain. Children become able to use two languages at the same time, switching constantly, developing skills in overcoming inhibitions, increasing concentration skills and working memory. Consequently children who are educated bilingually often perform better on tasks that require multi-tasking, decision making and problem solving, even though the particular situation may have nothing to do with language.
An early start also opens up the possibility of taking on a third language with much more ease. This will allow you and your child more choices when choosing a secondary school, where the options of A-levels or the International Baccalaureate are available and then further education, be it at a UK university or abroad. It is also a definite advantage for those going abroad for work experience or even on a gap year.
Being fluent in an extra language can make a candidate stand out from other prospective employees. It can open doors to extra opportunities that others without these skills may miss out on. In today’s growing global economy, those with a bilingual education have the advantage.
Now that we are on the cusp of Brexit it is more important than ever to maintain ties with Europe. Having a better ingrained understanding of other cultures and a fluency of other languages will put our children
in a stronger position to address successfully the demands of our future relationship with Europe, both in terms of competitiveness and cooperation.
But not just in Europe. With the development of digital technology, and unknown future technological advances yet to be conceived, the world grows ever smaller and comes increasingly closer to our own doorstep. Therefore, the importance of understanding other languages and cultures with an agile and receptive mind that has been developed through a bilingual education becomes more and more essential.
Nick Otten is the c0-founder of L’Ecole des Petits and L’Ecole de Battersea, bi-lingual schools for three to 11-year-olds. This article was originally published in the SS18 issue of School House.