“The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood” – Maria Montessori
In early childhood, it is easier for children to acquire a second language, especially when working towards fluency. During the primary learning cycle, children are in midst of the ‘sensitive periods.’ This is a critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability, such as the use of language or a sense of order. Therefore, during this time, the child is particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of language skills.
At Intercultural, we bring the culture of the target language into the classroom as much as the language itself. We believe cultural learning is an important element of language learning. Cultural experiences help connect students to the language but they are also strong stimuli for children during the sensitive periods.
Each child develops at their own natural pace, but primary age children usually start to show their second language (or language in general) skills towards the end of the sensitive periods. In our classrooms, we see many children understanding the teachers’ directions in the target language during their first year at school. During their second and third years, children begin to become communicative, learning to speak and read words in the target language.
How can parents support students’ second language acquisition at home?
If parents are native speakers of the target language, they should maintain communication in their language at home. It is beneficial for all children to be in a consistent communicative environment, and it is the same for second language acquisition. If parents do not speak the target language, they can still support a child with their second language learning by learning the language together with them and trying to bring the language into home environment. Families can watch TV shows in target language, cook the cuisine of the country, and learn new words with the child. This shared experience between a child and their parents is very meaningful to children and helps the child engage in and embrace the new language.
Acquiring a second language is such a gift. It not only connects a child to a rich culture, it also helps children to differentiate and understand their surroundings and develop the capacity to focus, switching between two languages depending on the environment. This ability greatly enhances their cognitive development and is advantageous for strengthening their academic skills. Through exploring language and culture, children become more receptive to and appreciative of diversity and new experiences. We are extremely proud to be able to provide an environment for our students where they can develop the academic skills, communication skills and compassion to thrive in a diverse world.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
-Mio Murodate, 1000 Cranes Japanese Community Lead Teacher, Intercultural Montessori Language School