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Best Age For Starting English Training

Popularity 16Viewed 13474 times 2013-10-17 07:30 |Personal category:Education|System category:Life| English

In the West, it is a well accepted fact today that the best age to begin learning a second language is when a child is learning their native language.  Massive amounts of research has been done in this area and it has overwhelmingly proven that the earlier a child starts learning a language other than their native language, the faster they will learn both languages. In fact, children who become bilingual at an early age also heighten their overall learning ability and actually enhance their overall intelligence no matter what the subject is. These children nearly always excel in all other academic studies.

I was shocked recently when I heard about a school arguing against the case here in China. They spoke as if learning a second language, namely, English, would hinder the students from learning Chinese. In fact, there really is no competitive conflict when learning two languages at the same time. Quite the contrary, they are complimentary to learning each language simultaneously.

Particularly in China, younger children haven't been taught the cultural idea of 'face'. They aren't afraid to speak out when asked to do so by the teacher. They have no awareness of what others think of them and are thus not hindered by shyness when asked to do something by an authority figure such as a teacher.

Secondly, if they are taught the second language in the same way that they are taught their native language, they will naturally learn the second language. Language is learned naturally by first listening, then speaking, then writing and lastly, reading. This is the natural way that every child on the planet learns a language. Usually a second language is taught in in school in a totally different and quite unnatural sequence. They are taught to write, read, listening and then speak. This unnatural process of learning English is why most have such difficulty in learning it.

Thirdly, when you consider what is involved in learning a second language, the biggest is most vital aspect is learning vocabulary. Every language often has numerous words for nouns. For example, in English, the toilet is called 'toilet', 'washroom', 'bathroom', 'the john' (slang), 'the men's room' (in a public place), 'the ladies' room', 'the WC (water closet) and 'the restroom'. If I'm learning a second language, I'm simply learning one more word for it. 

Fourthly, sentence structure is often quite different between different languages. However there are many different ways that I can structure words in a statement to say the same thing within English. This can be easily learned when learning a second language. It is more learning of the same thing, which is language.

The most obvious obstacle in learning a second language (or your first language) is, environment. We are forced to learn the native tongue of our country if we are going to function and survive in that environment. There is no solution to this obstacle except to go and live an extended period of time in that environment. However, I have dozens of friends here in China who have never traveled abroad and who are fluent in English. One older friend of mine learned English entirely from what he learned in his English class in school and from listening to VOA broadcasts.

The mind of children reaches near genius levels when it comes to learning a language. For example, there are hundreds of millions of children in China who can do what more than 340 million Americans can't do. That is, they can speak Mandarin. Of course that's true for every nation. But when you consider the difficulty of learning a second language and you realize what a child can do it, it is enough proof that the younger a person can start learning a language, the easier it is for them to eventually become proficient in it.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)

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Reply Report tonysong2000 2013-10-17 15:05
I believe your summary: earlier is better than later. Language can be enhance in the earlier age meanwhile if there is other neccessary invironment to speak often anyone can master the second mother language.
Reply Report KIyer 2013-10-17 18:23
I have heard this and my own experience learning to speak 5 different languages (albeit with varying degrees of fluency) is that the first language needs to be learned without mixing up with another language, because the child cannot or will not distinguish between the two languages. Confusion occurs since the structure of the first language will be different from English, even though words may be learned easily. It becomes harder to learn the first language then. After the first language has sunk in properly, children have a good 5-6 years to pick up more than one additional language, even if their syntax structure is different. Most Indians are more than bi-lingual and this occurs naturally. If the Chinese want to retain their language solidly and in its own purity and tradition, English should be ideally started after a couple years of schooling, especially when it comes to structure, grammar and syntax. If children are exposed to more than one language very early, that is fine, so long as they learn the structure, grammar and syntax of ONE language first (preferably the one that they want to give priority to) and then the others. This also gives the chance for a child to easily adapt to the structure of the second or third language. Of course, if we wait past the age of 12 or so, then the natural language learning ability fades out. So, between 6-12 is probably the ideal age to learn the structure of a second/third language, progressively.
Reply Report RealMadrid1 2013-10-17 19:29
Michael,

I have to agree - I am Australian, my wife Chinese, and we have lived in Spain for nearly four years, with our daughter (who has just turned three this month).

She has Spanish as her primary language, whilst we encourage her to use English and Chinese at home. She attends school (yes, they start in the year they turn three), which is taught in Spanish (Castellano).
Even at this age, the school (Spanish Public system) in a small village of 6,000 residents, they commence with English for two lessons a week.

I know that as I get older, learning new languages is harder - I envy my daughter's opportunity to be multi-lingual from her youngest days.
Reply Report snowipine 2013-10-17 19:41
learning a foreign language can start at any age。But
in the period of kindergarten and primary school,due to kids’  native tongue hasn’t establish firm foundation,so the learning can only be focused on the very basic knowledge cognition, such as words, phrase, idiom and syntax as well as the related stories about the language.

Intensive tanning can be accelerated accordingly as the kids’ entering the higher grade
Reply Report hulijing 2013-10-17 23:30
It's hard to say
Reply Report KIyer 2013-10-18 04:01
All Australian public schools I know teach a language other than English. I have seen even schools in other countries do the same - USA or UK or Canada. But the expectations of learning in that language and the details taught in that language are very different from English, whose foundation is first laid, solid. The synatax and grammar for the second language is taught at a later level. Depending on how the student goes, they can accelerate later. This is a strategy based on research and a commitment to English as the more important language. They would not dream of teaching a foreign language at the same level and age as English. If China adopts the same policy, it should just do the same, only the places of English and Chinese would be swapped. In India, the priority of English is even higher than the local languages - one can see the result -the local languages have either vanished or diminishing in importance to the point of irrelevance!
Reply Report cheney0211 2013-10-18 08:37
Thank you for your suggestion that you have written in this article.I do agree that language is learned naturally by first listening, then speaking, then writing and lastly, reading.
Reply Report lqsoscar 2013-10-18 11:24
  
Reply Report cmknight 2013-10-21 08:49
"Language is learned naturally by first listening, then speaking, then writing and lastly, reading."

I have to differ with you on this point (otherwise, a good article), Michael. Reading comes before writing. Parents buy their children "picture books", and read to them. Later, children will pick up those picture books and start making up their own stories. Essentially 'reading' to themselves. Parents buy alphabet charts for the kid's wall, and lettered blocks for their child to play with. Sure, they may teach a child to write their own name, address, and phone number, but structured writing doesn't start until grade one or two. They are reading long before that.

In terms of ease, listening is first. Then comes speaking. Speaking is slightly more difficult than listening. Reading is more difficult than speaking. Speaking is sound. Reading is interpretation of shapes (letters or characters) into sounds. The last one, writing, is more difficult to learn than reading, mostly because writing requires rules in order to be universally accepted. Those rules are what we know as grammar. Without that grammar, what we wrote would be unreadable gibberish, and nobody would understand it. Children have to learn to recognize the shapes of the letters / characters (read) before they are able to write them.
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-10-21 20:16
cmknight: "Language is learned naturally by first listening, then speaking, then writing and lastly, reading."

I have to differ with you on this poin ...
When parents read to children, that would be 'listening'. In the USA, the alphabet is taught by teaching the children to write the letters and then sound the letters. After that they are assembled into words. Following the learning of writing and sounding those words, they are taught structure and grammar. Reading follows naturally. Those sounds will reinforce what they already know by listening and speaking. As they write words, they are taught to read those words.

When children are sitting with books and making sounds, perhaps they are using their imagination to make up stories. They aren't reading words.

Having witnessed thousands of classrooms, I've never observed anyone teaching the alphabet without simultaneously teaching the children how to write it. Likewise, all language programs that follow a natural learning approach, teach it in the order that I gave. I simply gave it in the order of how these methods teach.
Reply Report christy08083 2013-10-22 11:32
I do agree```it does make sense.But it depends`` unless you try it in person , you will know whether early bilingual studies works``
Reply Report Raymond007 2013-10-23 11:42
Thanks for your  summary
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-10-23 19:45
Raymond007: Thanks for your  summary
You're welcome Raymond.
Reply Report 孤独自知 2013-10-25 02:34
   可惜我不懂英语
Reply Report 孤烟 2013-11-6 19:16
hard to understand what they said,english has became to be a terrible thing.
Reply Report Kevinfly 2013-11-12 14:21
We most Chinese students study English when we get into middle school, then English studying will last for several years until we graduate from college, if our job has something to do with English, we have to learn it after work, so English learning become a lifetime behavior, but even in this way, a lot person can not learn English well, I think the top reason for this is there is few opportunities to practice oral and written English ability.
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-11-12 14:51
Kevinfly: We most Chinese students study English when we get into middle school, then English studying will last for several years until we graduate from colleg ...
Yes, I think so too.
Reply Report Eunice~~ 2014-9-20 15:42
I was one of you students in zhengzhou experiment forign language school.Gald to see article.Hope to see you again.

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MichaelM

Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.

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