Language Learning – the earlier the better!

By Vikki Bruff, VB Primary Languages

I’m a language geek and proud of it. I find grammar fascinating – I love the rules and the quirky exceptions to them. I l love learning a new phrase in a different language and then trying it out on a native speaker at the earliest opportunity. Take pity on the lovely staff of our local Polish shop who are always very patient with me! I’m also a KS2 teacher. I taught Y6 for years, then moved to teaching French across KS2 in several primary schools. I was happy in my conviction that KS2 was where I belonged, and that small children were definitely not for me. (Other people’s, that is to say – I was fine with my own!). 

This year that changed. I’m a convert to teaching our youngest learners. I started working with Camembear in a Day Nursery attached to one of my primary schools and have also established a new parent and toddler’s French group. If you had told me last year how much I would love teaching French to two / three year olds, I would never have believed you. But I do – the joy that these tiny learners bring to their sessions is amazing. When I get to the nursery, the children race to line up for French, jostling for position, eager to see what there is in “Le Sac Magique” this time. Parents tell me their 2-year-old wakes up singing “L’arc-en-ciel” or “Comment t’appelles-tu?”. They are like sponges, absorbing new vocabulary and phrases without any hint of inhibition or embarrassment. I love it!

The European Council for Modern Languages (i)  identifies the following benefits of Early Language Learning:

• Young children are developmentally at the correct stage where they are eager to learn something new.

• They are less self-conscious.

• Between 2-4 years old, the brain is able to learn the correct pronunciation naturally.

• The methodology used in language teaching (lots of stories, songs, rhymes and games etc.) is very familiar to the children as widely used in Early Years / KS1 settings.

• Learning a language early promotes tolerance of differences and “otherness”, encouraging intercultural education. 

Current thinking is based on the “Critical Period Hypothesis” which claims that children have an intrinsic ability for language that weakens as they mature and presents a strong case for early language learning before this window of opportunity closes. Research by MEITS (ii) has shown that even an hour of foreign language teaching per week can spark a lifelong love of language learning – something that I believe is desperately needed in the UK, given our reputation for stubbornly sticking to speaking English abroad! So with this in mind, Camembear and I are tackling the reputation of Brits abroad, one small child at a time!

Au revoir les amis !