ECTACO Info | Second language opens new world
It's never too soon for children to start learning a second language. As long as they have a passionate teacher, supportive parents, a love for that language or culture and can learn their own language, children can quickly and easily learn a second one.
This year, Education Week's theme is languages, which draws on Melbourne's multicultural community, where more than 200 languages are spoken and more than 40 per cent of people have a parent born overseas.
From May 19 to 25, the importance and lifelong benefits of children learning another language will be highlighted in our schools.
Learning a second language improves literacy, brain development, social competence and the way kids view other cultures and the world. Language is a window into how other cultures interpret elements such as art and what they see as important, says Dr Russell Cross, senior lecturer in language and literacy education at Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education.
"Once you start to speak another language, you understand different ways of being and relating," Dr Cross said. "It opens your eyes up to new ways of thinking. Children get a sense of achievement when they learn another language and communicate in it. This helps with self-esteem, sense of accomplishment and development — not just a mark on a test. It becomes a social skill."
Pina Dunne, languages co-ordinator at St Monica's College in Epping, says the ability to communicate in a second language transcends oral exams and boosts students' self-esteem and confidence in job interview performance and other social engagements. She says children with a second language are better problem solvers because they are learning to code and decode and have a number of solutions to a problem rather than just one.
"Students of a second language will tackle a problem differently to those with one language because they can look at it from different angles," Dunne says.
Selecting a language can be problematic, but while Dr Cross believes most languages are no more difficult to learn than others, it comes down to how the learner uses the language and how it is taught.
However, Dunne says Italian is regarded as one of the easiest as it has words that sound and mean the same in English. Both agree that character languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, are the most difficult as they have a different alphabet and different vocabularies, grammatical structures and tones.
Often, learning happens when a student uses the new language to buy a book or play a game without even thinking about it.