A child’s educational journey is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it isn’t even confined to the window between when they learn their ABC’s to the day they throw a mortarboard in the air. Learning is a lifelong journey.
However, in modern society and educational systems, learning has become synonymous with education alone. Forcing learning in to the confines of an educational system means that it’s fairly easy to learn purely because of an extrinsic motivator: assessments and exams.
Whilst this is often seen as important for academic and career success, it poses some difficulties. With learning being a marathon, not a sprint, maintaining motivation for learning due to extrinsic factors only is immensely hard in the long run. It also removes much of the pleasure and fulfilment to be gained from intrinsically driven learning.
In short, doing well (or learning) simply with the goal of reaching the next level isn’t inspiring, or motivating in the long run.
What’s particularly key is that becoming an intrinsically motivated learner from the very beginning, in the Early Years, has the ability to set the tone for the rest of an individual’s life. The most adept, fulfilled and successful learners are those who are intrinsically motivated from the very beginning.
We need to think of vocabulary as a building block. Its intrinsic value is only complete when part of a larger structure. Research shows that vocabulary is far more important than the individual words, and their meaning. Vocabulary knowledge, breadth and depth are directly correlated with a child’s overall development.
Very young children are said to be like sponges. They absorb information and learning from the world around them with seemingly unrivalled ability. It follows, therefore, that they will be able to reach fluency in a second language much more easily than older children, and certainly adults.
In fact, there’s a definite window in childhood when it is considerably easier to acquire a second language, certainly with fluency. Researchers disagree how long that window remains open, but some say it reaches its peak by around 6 or 7 years old. After this point it is understood to be much harder to learn a second language, and considerably harder to gain fluency in it.
Why is this so?
The complete immersion learning method is the only truly effective language learning method. Learning to think and experience the world automatically, without conscious thought, is the gift given by complete immersion and gives children the tools to ultimately become fluent. We look at why the complete immersion method is so central, and how you can embark on this.
If you learned a second language at school, what can you remember? Chances are, if you embarked on learning a foreign language, like many at late primary or early secondary age, and haven’t gone on to use that language regularly, you’ve lost it. The benefits were limited to the language itself, for the time you could recall it.
That means that attempting to compare it with learning as a young child, in the early years, is akin to comparing apples and oranges: they are completely different. A young child’s brain learns language completely differently. This chasm of difference widens when we realise that early years’ language acquisition is a completely different kettle of learning experience in terms of the additional development it fosters. (more…)