Introducing language learning at a young age has a range of benefits for children. Even before they can read and write, children can learn through pictures and songs, building their vocabulary and working on their pronunciation. Early years language learning can embed a second language deeply, providing the child with native-level recall of words rather than leaving them having to consciously work out translations, as older learners do. If you’re helping your young child learn Portuguese, for example, songs are an excellent way forward as part of a collection of learning resources featuring simple, age-appropriate Portuguese words.
But why does music work so well? In this article, we will explore the benefits of learning languages through songs, focusing particularly on preschool-age children.
What is the easiest way to learn a new language?
The easiest way to learn a new language is to start young – very young! Toddlers minds are built to absorb information at a staggering rate. They translate their everyday experiences into knowledge at a rate that adults could not hope to achieve.
Preschool children learn in a wide range of ways, using all of their senses. As such, the more senses that language learning can engage, the better. Touch and feel foreign language books, brightly coloured flashcards and songs set to simple melodies all work well.
When it comes to music, nursery rhymes always work well. Toddlers thrive on repetition and nursery rhymes are set to just the kind of catchy tunes that stick in the brain for decades. Whether it’s Incy Wincy Spider or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the chances are that no matter how old you are, you can still recall the melodies – and the words. The same applies when those words are in a foreign language.
Are children natural born translators?
Infants’ brains seem wired to learn more than one language from birth. Research has shown that they can discriminate between two languages that they hear in their environments. Those exposed to both English and Tagalog during pregnancy and their first few days after birth will listen to both languages equally. Those exposed only to English during pregnancy and from age zero to five days show a preference to listening to English over Tagalog.
A comparable ability to discriminate has also been shown between infants exposed to much more similar-sounding languages, such as Spanish and Catalan.
Are there more benefits to preschool language learning than a future career in translation services?
There are a host of benefits to starting language learning at a very young age, not just preparing your child for a future career running a translation agency!
A study from the University of Southern California Digital Library has examined some of these benefits, in particular those that relate to the use of music in language learning. It found that music can support oral language development in young preschool children at the same time as helping improve their broader communication and social skills.
Not only that, but the same study found that both parents and teachers felt music helped motivate young learners, increase their memory and improve their confidence.
Ultimately, the use of music in developing a second language in preschool age children was found by the study to enhance learning and increase memory, making it an easy win for parents looking to raise bilingual children. If you’re looking to raise a child who speaks a second language with confidence, it therefore makes sense to indulge your musical side!
How to fit music into your language learning repertoire.
You don’t need to be a translation professional in order to raise a bilingual child. At an early age, all you need to do is lay the foundations. That means exposing your little learner to as much of the second language as possible. There are plenty of freely available resources that can assist you in doing this. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Music, of course, is the obvious starting point. Babies as young as five months old have been found capable of discriminating between sad and happy musical excerpts. Responsivity to music comes before language acquisition, so using music from infancy to lay the foundations for learning a second language can be a powerful tool.
There are various ways you can do this. The internet is most definitely your friend when it comes to finding music for babies and toddlers in other languages, if you don’t already have songs in mind from your own childhood. Add actions to the tunes and words in order to make the learning experience more fun and more impactful, as the child will associate the actions with the words and their meanings.
The alphabet song is also a cornerstone of language learning with preschool children. You can sing this from birth to amuse your baby or even croon it softly as a lullaby to calm them. Doing it in two languages is an excellent way to help your little one learn their letters in both tongues long before they understand what the concept of letters really are.
Cartoons are another great way for children to learn a second language. These can blend two languages (in the way that Dora the Explorer does with Spanish and English) or be wholly in the child’s second language. Either way, they will help the youngster to become familiar with the sound of the language and to start building up their vocabulary.
Screen time aside, flash cards are an ideal learning tool for little minds. These simple translation tools can embed vocabulary swiftly and easily. Go for groups of words that will interest your youngster – animals, colours, trucks… anything that they like to look at pictures of.
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