During childhood, the brain is more receptive to language learning than at any other time in a person’s life and starting foreign or second language learning early sets the stage for a child to develop advanced levels of proficiency in more than one language. Bilingualism is also increasingly being seen as a necessary 21st century skill set. Apart from the extensively researched and recognised cognitive benefits from learning more than one language, doing so as a young child dramatically improves the development of a near-native pronunciation and language intonation in the second language.
More and more parents are accepting that knowledge of a language other than English (LOTE) can also enrich their child’s understanding and acceptance of other cultures, and the attendant future job opportunities it can bring in a world being brought ever closer together by increasing globalisation. So it’s no surprise that they are choosing to raise their child/ren as bilingual and/or give them the opportunity to learn a foreign language.
However, as we all know, young children can sometimes be notoriously difficult to “read” and so – to ensure the best chance of success to achieve their bilingual goals for their child – it’s helpful for the parents of these ‘little linguists’ to understand their child’s language learning progression and the stages associated with second language acquisition.
The current theories of second language acquisition are based on research in a variety of language related fields such as linguistics and neurolinguistics, psychology, sociology and anthropology and language researchers have developed a GENERAL outline that helps to explain the process that second language learners go through. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Krashen)
Anyone who has been around children who are learning to talk knows that the process happens in stages—first understanding, then one-word utterances, then two-word phrases, and so on. Similarly, children learning a second language move through a number of predictable stages: