Bilingual education for preschoolers is a topic of current interest to education systems around the world, as authorities understand the importance of human mobility for the 21st century.
In an increasingly diverse and changing world, the need to know at least one foreign language has become essential.
In order to understand each other, to collaborate and to deliver messages to people in other countries, we either need to know the language of those people or we and others need to be able to use a language that is spoken internationally.
More and more multicultural and mobile learning and working contexts have increased our need to learn languages. The European Commission noted in 2011 that the current trend in many European education systems is to start this bilingual process as early as possible to maximise children's near-native language learning.
Thus, various forms of bi- and multilingual pedagogy are implemented for bilingual education
of pre-school children, overlapping the already established curriculum.
Learning a foreign language is one of the most
important advantages we can offer our child!
Young children are natural language learners, with an instinctive ability to learn several languages simultaneously. Children can process a new language effortlessly, and also naturally acquire native pronunciation. Studies have shown that bilingual education for preschoolers helps improve problem-solving skills, boosts working memory and the ability to think abstractly. Bilingual early childhood education also allows preschoolers to interact with information about other cultures, thus stimulating curiosity and appreciation for understanding different points of view.
There are several theories in the child development literature that directly or indirectly discuss the implications of bilingual education. According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, children's thinking differs greatly from that of adults. Piaget's theory points out that young children learn to use language at the pre-operational stage, when they are between two and six years old. Therefore, at this stage of development they are most susceptible and learning a foreign language would be easier.
Bilingual education in the early years: what the science says
Bilingual parents are vocal in their desire to raise bilingual, competent and dynamic children. Bilingualism refers to the ability to use two languages in everyday life. Bilingualism is common and growing in many parts of the world, and research shows that one in three people are bilingual or multilingual.
Language immersion schools: new elements in education systems
In the United States, a large (and growing) number of bilinguals live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. It is predicted that by 2035, more than 50% of children enrolled in kindergarten will have grown up speaking a language other than English at home. Similarly, in Toronto, up to 50% of students have a mother tongue other than English. Experts point out that this trend is likely to spread to the European continent. For this reason, language immersion schools have become increasingly popular.
Immersion schools accelerate the process of students acquiring not only literacy skills in a new language, but also the skills and knowledge acquired in regular schooling. Experts therefore argue that a dual language immersion programme would have a positive effect on pupils' learning ability. There is a need to expand bilingual education programmes and encourage second language acquisition in the education sector by setting up immersion programmes. Dual language enrichment models have fostered a positive and empowering learning environment for student development.
Children will naturally become bilingual when they see the need to communicate in two languages. Therefore, a classroom environment in which the child needs to communicate in the second language in order to participate and be understood is absolutely crucial.
Bilingual education: positive impact on children's development
Bilingual education has a positive impact on the development of pre-school children and it is essential to support an effective policy in this direction. Promoting dual language immersion programmes would be an excellent option. A dual-language immersion programme is an instructional model that provides students with content-based instruction in two languages. The goal is for all participants to become proficient and literate in both languages while also meeting a high academic standard.
The world we know is constantly changing. People are increasingly mobile, surrounded by multiculturalism, and language skills, in a language other than one's mother tongue, have become essential for the smooth running of everyday activities.
We also speak languages other than our mother tongue at work, in school or at school and with friends, and this signals to specialists that contact with a second language should start early. One solution to this is immersion schooling. Bilingual education brings significant developmental benefits for pre-schoolers, from training problem-solving skills to working memory.