Monday, February 7, 2011

Toddlers and Second Languages

Just the other day, my older daughter made an article about learning a second language at a young age.  The article mentions how toddlerhood is the best time to pick up a second language.  In fact, if exposed to several languages at this age, it is possible to pick them all up!  I have friends who can speak nine different languages because they lived in a place like Malaysia where they are exposed to that many languages/dialects at a young age.  The first three years of life is when the brain is most intensely developing speech and language.  Certain nuances of sounds can be picked up at this age where in adults (where the brain has already molded and matured) it may be very difficult for one to hear, differentiate, and then enunciate certain sounds.  Studies are showing that there are certain "critical periods" in infants and young children to develop develop speech and language and if those periods are missed without the early exposure to language then the ability to pick up that language would be more difficult, less efficient and perhaps less effective.

This is why I took great effort to immerse my daughters in Mandarin Chinese and in Taiwanese (a Chinese dialect) at an early age.  Since my kids are cross-cultural in more than one sense (their father is Korean while I'm Chinese.. and we're living in America!) I felt it was important and even useful in the future to be at least bilingual... but I'm hoping they'll pick up Korean, too.  And if you count the Taiwanese dialect as another language (because I think Taiwanese and Mandarin is as different as Spanish is from French).. then she'd really be quadrilingual!

So they get the Taiwanese exposure from my parents and my older daughter is pretty fluent in Taiwanese.  I know they will get English in school and she is already speaking mostly English because most of her friends at preschool, church, etc all speak English.. after all we are living in America.  So I still try my best to speak to her in either Taiwanese or Mandarin Chinese because I know that some kids lose the ability to speak a language they once knew as a toddler after they are full time going to school.  As for the Korean lanugage.. since dad mostly speaks to them in English, we'll have to have their paternal grandmother speak to them more and perhaps we'll have to send them to Korean school!  Or we'll just have to hire a korean speaking nanny!

But especially with the way the future looks with China becoming more of an economic power... I think it may be really useful to be able to master the Chinese language.  So we've been going to this "Mommy and Me Learn Chinese" class in our community for about half a year now.  It is for kids age 3-5 and it is mostly just crafts and songs but it's exposure!  The class was featured here.  Come join us if you have Monday mornings free and live in the area!