Child DevelopmentThe cognitive development of second language learning in children
has been a topic researchers have been interested in for decades now. While many people worry about the negatives affects a second language can have on their child if exposed to at an early age, research shows opposing affects. This research shows that the early bi-language introduction has impacts on children’s cognitive development including executive functioning, metalingusitic awareness, cognitive and linguistic abilities. Everyday, children are exposed to a wide array of language environments. Exploring the impact of second language learning can advance our understanding of the developmental benefits of a bilingual experience for children’s cognitive development.
The importance of childhood bilingualism is undermined in our society today. Bilingualism, the linguistic proficiency in two languages, is a term that has been used to describe a trait in individual children as well as social institutions. The effects of early bilingualism language input on children’s cognitive development are not well understood. However, more and more research is discovering that the younger the child is when exposed to the second language, the greater the overall benefits. Studies have shown that implications of bilingualism have a “positive effect on children’s ability to control attention to conflicting perceptual or representational features of a problem” (Carlson & Metlzoff, 2008). While others have found that an early age of bilingual exposure has a positive effect on reading, phonological awareness, language competence and a heightened ability to judge grammar in both languages (Petitto, 2009).
For purposes of understanding the neuropsychological development in children exposed to a second language it is important to understand one’s developmental stages while learning a foreign language. Therefore we will take a look at the developmental stages as founded by Jean Piaget, a leading developmental theorist. These stages of development are as followed: sensorimotor (ages 0-18 months), preoperational (2 – 7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (11 years and up) (Piaget, 2003). Research shows that FL learning in childhood reproduces identical developmental stages in an identical order to first language learning acquisition (Ojima, 2010). Piaget tells us this is because children go through specific and distinct developmental stages and need to pass through each one before able to enter the next. Language acquisition can be included. Since language development is one of the hallmarks of the preoperational stage, introducing another language to a child in this stage of growth makes sense. It becomes simply "a matter of course" to their day and a manner of expression and is not perceived to be "learning" as in the later stages.
At this stage of development, children have an innate curiosity that fuels everything they do. Most preoperational thinking is self-centered, or egocentric. According to Piaget’s developmental theory, a preoperational child has difficulty understanding life from any other perspective than his own, making him very “me” oriented. They feel a sense of oneness in the world, that they can control everything. This egocentric thought can develop a sense of self esteem and resilience about mistakes, which is an essential part of the language growth process. This developmental stage allows children to learn things quickly, including language development.
I am enthralled with the vast benefits fluency in a second language can be for a person, especially when learnt at an early age. I think this is very important for our diverse and cultural world today. I believe that if more studies were done to show the positive results and benefits, they could act as better agents in influencing parents, schools
, and individuals to learn a second language. Not only is learning a foreign language for young children a positive affect on their cognitive development, teaching a foreign language to young learners is also one of the most rewarding journeys, especially for a teacher!
Carlson, S. M., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental Science, 11(2), 282-298. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00675
Ojima, S., Nakamura, N., Matsuba-Kurita, H., Hoshino, T., & Hagiwara, H. (2011). Neural correlates of foreign-language learning in childhood: A 3-year longitudinal ERP study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(1), 183-199. doi:10.1162/jocn. 2010.21425.
Petitto, L. (2009). New discoveries from the bilingual brain and mind across the life span: Implications for education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 3(4), 185-197. doi:10.1111 /j.1751-228X.2009.01069.
Piaget, J. (2003). PART I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget: Development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(S), S8-S18. Retrieved from www.csa.com.