Saijo Temple in Minami Ashigara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

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Monday, November 05, 2007

My Thoughts on Early Childhood Language Study

Pictured: Kevin and friends in Kaisei Town, Kanagawa

By Kevin Burns

My basic feeling is that children should only study a foreign language if they want to. If they don`t want to and parents think it is a good idea, the parents
and perhaps the teacher must try to convince the child that studying the language is a good idea. Perhaps the child will be moving to a foreign country in the near future, has a relative that speaks the language, or will need the language
in the future for business; or simply to help the child to see that the world
is a bigger place than just these small Asian islands.

In Japan, there is such a negative attitude towards English that ranges from
the apathetic: "I can never learn English." to the: "I don`t like English."--the
task is more difficult. Though English permeates the Japanese language, few Japanese ever envision themselves becoming good English speakers.

With this nationwide negativity, convincing a child that she might need English is very difficult. It would be much easier to do so in a country more open to
other languages like the Netherlands, however I digress.

Forcing someone to study never works very well. You need to find a way to make them realize that studying the language is important for them. You need to show them the benefits--what they will gain from this study. For young children perhaps associating English with a Disney theme could be one answer.
A textbook series called English Land has done just that.

What age should children start studying a foreign language?

This is a difficult question! I think it really depends on the child and the circumstances. Though at Kevin`s English Schools we have children as young
as three studying and enjoying English.

Some studies have suggested that it isn`t necessary to start studying at such a young age, that by the time they are 12 years old, all the students who started
studying at various ages, tend to perform at the same level in the foreign language regardless. Perhaps we are missing something here though?

Studying a language is not done just for the spoken output or doing well on a test. By studying a language we are opening up a whole new world to our children, a different way of thinking and indeed seeing the world. The sooner that can happen the better in my opinion. Yet the child must decide that for him or herself, and if as parents or educators we deem it important, we must convince the child that it is. If we cannot, the child should wait until such
time that it is important to her or him.

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