Window of Opportunity
WIRED FOR LEARNING
Researchers concur that children’s brain are pre-wired to learn languages. Children begin to build their language skills from the moment of birth by utilizing the sounds of speech they are exposed to through listening, absorbing, and imitating words both in the first and second languages they hear.
In her research, Dr. Patricia Khul (link) also demonstrates how early exposure to languages alters the brain most notably in infants. Specifically, her work identifies how babies learn one language over another. Dr. Khul demonstrates how infants display an extraordinary ability to learn simply by listening to ambient language.
Repetition is essential to form connections. This ability to form and reform connections is known as plasticity. These connections, built at an astounding rate enable children to make associations between sounds, words, objects, smells, as well as to differentiate between various languages. In fact, there seems to be no limit to the number of languages young children can acquire. Not only necessary for learning a new language, these connections are also beneficial towards academic success. Scientific studies demonstrate students who have engaged in second language study perform better in areas such as mathematics and logic.
This time period know as the “window of opportunity” or critical period peaks during the ages of birth and ten-twelve years of age. Research demonstrates the importance of introducing a second language as early as possible during this time frame. Within this window of time, the elasticity of the brain of young children enables them to easily learn multiple languages. Studies demonstrate that children who learn a language before the onset of adolescence are more likely to develop native-like pronunciation (Strozer, 1994).
Unfortunately, schools in the U.S. as opposed to Europe introduce a second language at age 12, and in many cases as an optional elective. At this time, the ability for the brain to restructure itself diminishes as has the “window of opportunity”. An early and continued instruction enables children to achieve levels of fluency, otherwise not possible due to the late start of most language programs. Older children may also learn a second language successfully; however, the level of attainment may be due to factors that influence language in a less predictable way (Mayo, del Pilar, & Lecumberri, 2003). Any and all exposure to a second language and its culture will be beneficial, even if native-like proficiency is not achieved.
As a language immersion program, Mis Amigos Languages offers all instruction in Spanish and/or French. We encourage learning languages through active participation. Our instructional techniques include *TPR (total Physical response), oral and visual cues for directions, and modeling. The many unique activities and techniques incorporated in the program are based on the *Theory of multiple intelligences developed in 1983 by Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University.
This theory suggests that our traditional notion of intelligence does not reflect the broad range of human potential and diverse learning styles of children and adults. We share this belief that each child thinks and learns in his or her own way according to their unique intelligence (i.e. logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial/visual, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal or naturalist). Research has shown that learning in your preferred learning style increases motivation and effectiveness (Language Learning Principles, Carol J. Orwig, 1999).