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Raising Young Genii: Learning Several Languages in the Early Years Essay

Introduction: In the Most Tender Age

Plunging into the second-language environment can be considered quite a stressful ordeal for a person, no matter how well (s)he can adapt to the new surroundings, with the language issue at the top of all the complexities that may possibly arise. Rather uncomfortable experience for an adult, the given situation should be traumatizing for a child as well, which the necessity to offer the strategies of foreign language mastering in the early years is predetermined with.

Because of the difference in the vision of the world, the pace of the intellectual development and a number of other factors, children display a different attitude towards learning two or more languages as compared to the adults (Nikolov, 2009). However, because of the complexities connected with teaching children second foreign language, the arguments against the given issue may arise. Therefore, it is necessary to figure out whether the early foreign languages teaching is reasonable enough, taking into account the existing theories.

Multilingualism and Competent Language Learning

When speaking of the teaching at the tender age, it is necessary to provide the definition for the given stage of a child’s development and draw the line between the early years and the childhood.

In the given case, it would be most reasonable to resort to the definition offered by an early age stretches from the day of birth to the age of three, suggesting that at the given stage, “there is a gradual development of features that become recognized as ‘adult second language acquisition’ after approximately age 7” (Philp, Oliver and Mackey, 2008, p.27). However, some researchers, like Whitehead (2010), tend to think that the cognized learning takes place at the age from 0 to 7 (p.218).

Whet talking about the process of teaching children the foreign language, the competent language learning is to be differentiated from the phenomenon of bi- and multilingualism, since the latter does not presuppose a conscious process and, hence, cannot be considered learning, as Knapp & Seidhofer (2009) explain: “On a societal level, multiculturalism can be defined as the presence of more than one language in the society” (p.54).

Taking a Theoretical Approach: Learning the Ideas of the Coryphaei

When speaking about the issue of teaching the youngest children foreign languages, one must consider the arguments pro and contra the given idea. Obviously, teaching children of tender age does have its benefits, yet there are considerable difficulties in helping small children master a foreign language. With that in mind, it is necessary to consider several theories concerning the second language teaching tactics as well as the advantages and the drawbacks that such children possess from the viewpoint of a foreign language teacher.

When considering various aspects of teaching children several languages in their earliest years, it would be most reasonable to consider several viewpoints, thus, offering an extensive overview of the existing opinions on the given issue. Since the given question is rather disputable and requires thorough considerations, the versatility of opinions is more than welcomed in the given case.

One of the first people whose ideas are to be considered is Jerome Bruner. Offering rather specific approach to the given issue, the researcher claimed that the language issue and the family relationships are closely intertwined and are actually interdependent on each other. Therefore, Bruner’s theory correlates with the idea that, together with the language skills, children obtain the necessary communicational skills that help them reach their top in the society and become its decent members (Harris, 1992).

Judging from the notorious example driven by Rymer (1992), people who have not been taught to use the language and the linguistic tools properly are highly unlikely to ever integrate into the society and even survive.

Therefore, obtaining the necessary experience from his/her parents, a child also gets the required language skills which are supposed to help him/her in the nearest future and contribute to his/her development: “As Bruner expresses it, the child’s knowledge of the social context – and especially of the routines that occur with it – assists the child to “crack the code” of the language that accompanies social interaction” (35). Hence, it is obvious that the scientist intertwines the aspects of learning the language and integrating into the society, thus, broadening the list of the communicational skills.

Another important idea was offered by Piaget (Beilin & Pufall, 1992) and suggested quite a different perception of the role of the language in a child’s development. According to Paiget, Beilin & Pufall (1992) claim, children of rather young age demonstrate keen understanding of the linguistic issues that are rather complicated and require thorough explanations to elder children and teenagers.

As Beilin & Pufall (1992) claim, after the exploration that was held by Piaget, “the results of the experiments, especially in the production task, showed parallels in the way 6- and 7-year-old children constructed this type of semantic invariance and their construction of quantitative invariants” (219).

Claiming that children build certain schemes that allow them to operate the language and use it correctly, the scientist emphasizes the necessity to contribute to the early development of children, enhancing their need to acquire new linguistic knowledge (Beilin & Pufall, 1992).

The last, but not the least, the theory that Gardner offers is also worth certain discussions. Basing his ideas on his own vision of the way children develop and the role that language plays in the given process, the author focuses his attention on the multiple aspects of knowledge that learning several languages in childhood presupposes. According to the definition offered by the scientist himself,

I would also like to introduce the concept of an individual-centered school that takes this multifaceted view of intelligence seriously. This model for a school is based in part on findings from sciences that did not even exist in Binet’s time: cognitive sciences (the study of the mind) and neuro-science (the study of the brain). One such approach I have called my “theory of multiple intelligences.” (Gardner 48)

Hence, the last theory is based on the cultural versatility that studying foreign languages offers. Incorporating the three above-mentioned theories, one can offer a synthesis that makes the ultimate proof that studying foreign languages in early age is crucial for the development of a child. Since the learning of foreign languages has the positive impact on the child’s general development and also offers the basis for the future harmonic coexistence with the other nations, studying foreign languages at early age is essential for a child.

Fast Learning: The Privilege of Children

Despite the skeptical doubts of the people who think that young children too inexperienced to handle the task of learning another langue, some scientists claim that at the young age, most children possess the specific kills that allow them to absorb the specific knowledge instantly without any misconceptions.

Caused by the specific way that small children cognize the environment with, it brings astounding results. As Singleton & Lengyel (1995) assert, “there can be no doubt that children at an early age, especially in natural contexts, but also in tutored contexts, can learn and do learn secondary languages” (77).

Indeed, studying the second language at the early age has its benefits in terms of the speed and the quality of the studying process. According to what Benson & Haith (2009) say, children from 0 to 7 years obviously pass the stage that involves an unbelievable accelerated development, which predetermines the children’s ability to master a foreign language almost instantly: “The assumption underlying both of those is that the early years constitute, if not a critical period, an important window of opportunity to maximize likelihood of mastering a musical instrument or learning a second language” (p.144).

Indeed, considering the behaviorist theory of human development and the fact that children tend to copy the people surrounding them with an amazing precision, one can claim that teaching young children the basics of foreign languages can be considered rather sensible idea by “theoretical questioning of behaviorist theories of language learning”(Ellis, 1990, p.44).

In addition, according to Ellis (1990, p.44), a number of other theories approved of teaching children at quite a young age: “the vast majority of the studies examined either pure naturalistic or mixed L2 acquisition” (1990, p.44).

When reconsidering the significance of teaching children various languages at the earliest stages of their development, the notorious case of Genie, the feral child who is known to be the most striking example of the progressing underdevelopment experienced by a child whose ability to talk has been suppressed and who had no chance to develop their skills for mastering the language since the day they were born.

As Rymer (1992) emphasizes, there is a constant urge in developing the language skills within any human being, and the level of mastering the language predetermines the level of self-development.

Rymer (1992) explained that “Investigations of Genie’s brain unveiled the utter dominance of her “spatial” right hemisphere over her “linguistic” left… This may have been why she was unable to grasp grammar–because she was using the wrong equipment…” (Rymer, 1992, p.43). Hence, the necessity to develop children’s ability to use various language tools efficiently is crucial for their further mental development.

On a Second Thought: Avoiding the Pitfalls

It is evident that without the proper development of the linguistic skills and the ability to talk correctly, using the language in the proper way, a child is highly unlikely to develop in a normal way; moreover, the most dreadful consequences, such as the process of mental retardation, the complexities in adapting to the environment and the society that surrounds the given child, and the ability to communicate his/her own needs and wants is inevitable.

Moreover, the shift in the mental development of a child is highly unlikely to ever cease and is extremely complicated to fight, which predetermines the necessity to teach children the linguistic skills at rather young age (Bialystok, Luk & Kwan, 2005). However, even though the early development of children’s linguistic skills does seem crucial for their further well-being and the ability to adapt to the society and social norms, the question concerning the reasonability of teaching very young children the second language arises.

According to what Rapaport and Westgate (1974) claim, there are no obvious contra-indications for children o be taught foreign languages at the earliest stages of their development.

As the scientists assert, when a teacher chooses the right methods for teaching children the skills that will allow them to master a foreign language, such children start developing better and faster, which signifies that they are integrating into the society more quickly than the rest of the children of their age group, which must be a clear-cut evidence that studying a foreign language at the early age is desirable. As Rapaport and Westgate (1974) say, learning the foreign language at early age helps to overcome cultural controversies:

There has also been a revival of interest in the “horizon-broadening aspect,” the notion of a foreign language as a healthy antidote to an otherwise monocultural education of young children. Prejudice derives from ignorance, and in the current world context a wholly ethnocentric view of culture and education has no place. (12)

Hence, it cannot be denied that teaching children foreign languages at the early stages of development is crucial for the children’s vision of the world. Offering children studying another language equals to teaching them cultural and ethical tolerance. Therefore, the importance of teaching young children foreign languages cannot be disputed.

The Helping Hand of the Professionals: The Analysis

Analyzing the above-mentioned approaches towards teaching young children foreign language, one must admit that the reasons of the authoritative sources are quite impressive. According to the evidence provided by the authors of the existing theories of speech development and the significance of foreign language learning, the more languages a child can master, the better.

Certainly, no instances of forced foreign language learning should occur, for the child may be reluctant from studying foreign language in the future and even feel aversion towards learning new languages (Bocher, 2003). Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that the necessity to offer a child to acquire new language skills is quite important for the further development of his/her personality.

Moreover, when considering the development of children’s language and communication skills, especially concerning the second language, on must keep in mind that the process of cognizing another culture and another language is rather fragile and requires a delicate approach.

As Nolan (2004) warns, “In school, when children from marginalized discourses are required to produce language, the judgments about their linguistic abilities that (even if unspoken) are already in the classroom serve to undermine their motivation” (p.43). Therefore, teaching children the second language is not only the constant, irreversible process of development, but also a range of conflicting situations that require immediate solution (Saunders-Semonsky, 2004).

Conclusion: When It Comes to Understanding

According to the evidence provided by scientists and researchers, learning foreign languages at early age is not only a harmless, but also a highly desirable activity. Owing to the courses of the second language that children take at the age up to 7, their communication skills, as well as their mental development, are constantly progressing.

Therefore, it cannot be doubted that with the help of teaching children foreign languages at the age from 1 to 7, one will be able to help the child achieve comprehensive development, which will contribute to his/her future success and emotional comfort.


Beilin, H., & Pufall, P. B., 1992. Piaget’s theory: Prospects and possibilities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Benson, J. B., & Haith, M. M., 2009. Language, memory, and cognition in infancy and early childhood. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.

Bocher, S., & Jones, J., 2003. Child language development: Learning to talk. New York, Y: John Wiley & Sons.

Bialystok, E., Luk, G., & Kwan, E. (2005). Bilingualism, biliteracy, and learning to read: Interactions among languages and writing systems. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9(1), pp.43-61.

Ellis, R., 1990. Instructed second language acquisition: Learning in the classroom. New York, NY: Wiley-Blackwell.

Gardner, H., 2006. The development and education for the mind: The selected works of Howard Gardner. New York, NY: Taylor&Francis.

Harris, M., 1992. Language experience and early language development: From input to uptake. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Knapp, K., & Seidhofer, B., 2009. Handbook of foreign language communication and learning. Berlin, DE: Walter de Gruyer.

Nikolov, M., 2009. The age factor and early language learning. Berlin, DE: Walter de Gruyer.

Nolan, K., 2004. The power of language: A critique of the assumptions and pedagogical implications of Howard Gardner’s concept of linguistic intelligence. In Joe J. Kincheloe, Multiple intelligences reconsidered. Bern, CH: Peter Lang.

Philp, J., Oliver, R., & Mackley, A., 2008. Second language acquisition and the younger learner. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Rapaport, B., & Westgate, D. P. G., 1974. Children learning French: An attempt at first principles. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Rymer, R., 1992. II-A silent childhood. The New Yorker, p. 43 Web. Available at: .

Saunders-Semonsky, C. M., Spielberger, M. A., 2004. Early language learning: A model for success. Charlotte, NC: IAP.

Singleton, D. M., & Lengyel, Z., 1995. The age factor in second language acquisition: A critical look at the critical period hypothesis. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Whitehead, M. R., 2010. Language and literacy in the early years 0-7. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Ltd.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Raising Young Genii: Learning Several Languages in the Early Years." May 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/raising-young-genii-learning-several-languages-in-the-early-years-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Raising Young Genii: Learning Several Languages in the Early Years'. 24 May.

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