Should My Child Learn a Second Language?

Many parents grapple with deciding if their child should learn a second language. There are several potential pitfalls to consider before making the commitment. Yet there are also myriad benefits to learning an additional language, particularly at a young age.

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Benefits of a Second Language

The possible benefits your child will receive from learning a second language are vast. The most compelling reason may be that studying a second language will help your child master English more quickly and thoroughly. Study of a second language fosters a heightened awareness of language as a system, improving comprehension, reading and speaking skills. Problem solving skills have also been shown to be better in bilingual children. This translates into all areas of life, including the SAT, where such students have been proven to score higher.

Learning a second language also sets your child up for success in his or her career. Though this may seem far off if you have a young child, gaining fluency in a second language while young will open up many job opportunities down the road that wouldn't exist otherwise. This includes opportunities working abroad or with multinational companies. It also includes U.S.-based jobs with companies and organizations that serve non-English speaking communities.

When a Second Language Doesn't Fit

There are situations in which studying a second language isn't appropriate for your child. The most common one is when your child is already overwhelmed with schoolwork. Adding to the burden of a stressed and mentally fatigued child rarely makes sense. The only exception might be with a student who struggles with his or her English class, since the benefit to his or her overall language, grammar and communication skills may make it worthwhile.

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Another factor to consider is cost. If your child can't study a second language at school, you may need to hire a tutor or enroll your child in a private class. While there are many compelling reasons to make the investment in a second language, there may be other types of learning that are more appropriate or beneficial for your child. For example, if your child has shown an interest in or aptitude for music or sports, you may consider focusing time and money in an area of greater passion for your child.

Making the Decision

Most experts suggest starting second language education as early as possible. Ideally, if you decide that learning a second language is the right decision for your child, have him or her begin before reaching age ten. As we age, we're less able to adapt to a second language. This process is simply more natural the younger we are, stretching all the way back to the womb.

Don't worry, though, if you didn't get started with a second language before your child was born; though language study becomes more difficult with age, the benefits of learning a second language are significant regardless of your child's age.

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