Many people say that the best time to learn a language is when you're a young child. While there are many benefits to learning a language at a time when a child learns to speak, there are actually several disadvantages of learning a second language in elementary school, particularly kindergarten. Before enrolling your child in a foreign language course or pushing for your school district to include foreign language at the kindergarten level, there are several factors to consider.
Two Languages Can Be Difficult in Kindergarten
When children start kindergarten, they are expected to learn many things in just one year. They will begin learning phonemic and phonological awareness, which involves listening to different sounds in a word and eventually how to identify those sounds when reading. Students in kindergarten will learn the basics of writing and reading fluency, learn how to write their name, read consonant-vowel-consonant words, answer questions about a story and hopefully read grade-level books independently.
When a child is learning to do all of these things in addition to being in school for the first time and having to adapt to a totally new environment, adding another language on top of that can not only be academically difficult for the child but stressful emotionally and mentally. Learning literacy in your own language (or in one language) can take several years. Once children master that, then they can apply what they know about language to learning another.
Budget Disadvantages of Teaching a Foreign Language
Another one of the disadvantages of teaching a foreign language in kindergarten is that the school district may simply not have the money for it, or they may want to invest the budget in other things instead. Kindergarten is a big adjustment for youngsters, and it's important that they associate being in school with happy, safe and positive feelings overall.
Whether one may agree or not, the fact of the matter is that schools choose to put their budget toward things that they think will be the most useful or beneficial to their students. This could be sports, physical education, music and art class, workshops, presentations in the auditorium, scientific-based interventions in the classroom, school field trips, etc. In many cases, there's just not room in the budget to include classes in foreign language in primary school.
Students Should Choose Activities They Enjoy
Many times, when something is forced upon children at a young age, they may grow to resent it. One of the major disadvantages of learning a second language in elementary school is that it might not be fun for the child. Children at this age want to do things that they enjoy doing, whether that's playing games, coloring, singing, playing a sport or whatever it may be. If learning a second language does not fall into that category, then it may not be worth it.
Learning a Second Language in Kindergarten Is Ineffective
At what age does learning a language become difficult? Many experts say that the best time to learn a language is when the child learns to speak in general, which is anywhere between two and four years old. At this age, the child can pick up language naturally and thus become bilingual. After that, it can be hard.
Therefore, by the time children hit kindergarten, they would have already surpassed that golden opportunity. Many believe that trying to teach them a second language then would only confuse them, and it may be best to wait until children are a little older.
When Is the Right Time to Introduce a Language?
If kindergarten is not the best time to learn a second language, then when is the best time? Some studies have reported that if children pick up a language when they are young and become bilingual, they may actually be "double semilingual," which means they'll never fully perfect either of the two languages they speak.
While there are many benefits to teaching children to speak another language when they are young, there are disadvantages of learning a second language at an early age. If the time passes, and the child has not learned a foreign language by around kindergarten age, then the next-best time to try is between 11 and 13 years old. At this age, children have mastered one language completely, and they can use what they know about language to more easily understand the structure of the new language. Studies have proven this as well.
Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.