It’s natural to worry that learning a second language will make your child forget English. Although adults seem to forget one thing as soon as they learn another, kids’ brains work differently – especially in language.
Learning Spanish or Mandarin Will Not Interfere with Remembering and Using English
Because a child’s first language is such a significant part of his or her life, your child will naturally learn the fundamentals of English grammar without being taught. Once they reach school age, of course, they’ll be formally taught grammar rules. According to psychologists, this unconscious learning process is stored very early on in the brain and acts as a skill one can never forget, like riding a bike. In fact, language scientists have found that learning another language actually improves a child’s ability to speak and write grammatically correct English.
Moreover, numerous studies involving children learning other languages found that by encouraging children to contrast and compare the rules of another language, their ability to differentiate between the two languages is dramatically improved. This minimizes or even eliminates the potential for the second language to interfere with using the English language.
The "Bilingual" Brain
Did you know that the brain is like a muscle? Like any other muscle, the brain needs continuous exercise to keep it functioning as its optimal rate. One of the best ways to exercise the brain is by learning how to speak, read and write in another language. By utilizing neurons that are vital for relaying messages throughout the brain, this maintains the high-order operations that the brain performs, such as organizing, memorizing details, and expressing ideas.
Children exposed to two languages from an early age often develop what neuroscientists call a "bilingual brain" that is capable of processing languages through the brain's left hemisphere. However, children who are older than 12 often experience more difficulty learning another language because researchers discovered that older "bilinguals" experience the language learning through the right hemisphere of the brain, which seems to delay the ability to "pick up" another language. (This could also explain why adults have a harder time with a new language.)
Further, when children have the ability to express themselves in a second language, it heightens their ability to articulate their thoughts and ideas in their native language.
Why It’s So Important to Learn Another Language
Living in a world that’s as culturally and linguistically diverse as ours, knowing a second language like Spanish or Mandarin is becoming increasingly necessary for children. The good news is, that knowledge won’t affect their English.