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Learning a Second Language at an Early Age
By François Thibaut, Founder of The Language Workshop for Children

Children hold a unique ability to acquire language skills and build first-rate verbal processing skills that has been proven to play a critical role in their future careers, as well as their successes along the way. Some parents and educators believe a second language does not become imperative until high school. However, we have outlined eight key reasons why children, even those as young as six months old, will benefit from learning these skills as early as possible. In fact, The Language Workshop for Children (LWFC) believes that the younger the student, the better.

(1) Capture the Critical Period: At about seven months, a baby's neocortex develops to the point that their long-term memory starts working. This is the beginning of what psycholinguists and neurolinguists call a child's critical period. During this stage, and until the brain begins losing its plasticity around age 12 or 13, children have their greatest potential to absorb and retain language skills. Mr. Thibaut cautions, "You don't want to let a child's prime time to learn a new language slip away."

(2) Boost English Language Skills. Many English words share Latin roots with Spanish, French and other languages. Learning the meaning of a foreign word enhances a student's chance of knowing the meaning of an English word.

(3) Improve Verbal Test Scores. Seventy five percent of the verbal section of the SAT I and a large portion of the ISEE, SSAT and ACT tests, measure vocabulary skills. Studying another language builds an inventory of root word similarities, driving higher school entrance exam scores.

(4) Speak Like a Native. Language is stored in the brain's left hemisphere, with pronunciation and grammar in the Brocas area. If we learn a word after puberty we will always pronounce it differently than if we learned it before our critical period ends. This is because by age 13, newly learned words are channeled to a completely different place in the Brocas area. As Thibaut says, "That's why my accent will always be charming."

(5) Learn Before We're Self-Conscious. Children have emotional advantages too. Since they're not as self-conscious as adults, they are not afraid of getting it wrong or saying it funny. Youngsters are willing to call out their new foreign words (whether right or wrong) and their spontaneity pays off with a faster fluency adoption.

(6) Children's Language Classes use Whole Brain Learning. Many psycholinguists believe it is critical to link emotion to learning. Language education for both children and adults is more successful when techniques are used that link the left hemisphere's skills (logic, math, and literal meaning) with right brain skills (emotion, music and voice melody). One example of this is the structured playgroup approach (pioneered by Thibaut in 1973 to teach children). As Mr. Thibaut says, "Children remember what makes them happy."

(7) Future Careers. The more we know, the more we are worth. Learning multiple languages gives us the tools to do business in a global world. There is an ever growing need in corporations for candidates that are able to understand contracts drawn in another language, negotiate terms with a foreign vendor and more. Help your children be more marketable when they set out in the workforce.

(8) Learning from the LWFC's Two-Year Olds. The proof is in the pudding. Thibaut's Manhattan Language Workshop for Children divides Tots into three age groups: 6-16 months, 13-24 months and 2 to 3 years.

In the past, the LWFC had grouped all the students (between the ages of 24 months to three years) by age. This resulted in children who had taken French for Tots or Spanish for Tots since they were 6 months old, learning in the same classroom with absolute beginners.

However Mr. Thibaut and his teachers saw that the experienced students were absorbing and repeating the vocabulary (which was designed to be new for all students) significantly faster than the inexperienced children.

If the teachers slowed down to allow the inexperienced students to follow, the seasoned children quickly got bored and began misbehaving. Then, if the teacher began introducing more complicated material again, the newer students were confused and could not respond.

It was clear. Spending 18 months in a language-rich structured playgroup had accelerated the early starter's verbal processing skills to such a degree that they could no longer be placed with children who, in other circumstances, would be considered their peers. Therefore, The LWFC created an Advanced Tots program where its seasoned two year olds now get the challenge they need.


About The Language Workshop for Children:
François Thibaut established Manhattan's The Language Workshop for Children in 1973. It was the first educational program of its kind to teach foreign languages to very young children. The Language Workshop for Children has been offering their Thibaut Technique classes exclusively to students in Manhattan, the New York area and Greater Boston for more than 30 years. For more information, visit www.professortoto.com or contact (877) 444-9595 / email: info@professortoto.com.

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