In the UK, foreign languages start to be introduced in schools from Key Stage 2 (age seven to 11) and the study of a modern language must be in place by Key Stage 3 (age 11 to 14), with many children choosing to go on and study a language at GCSE level or above.
There is debate about the age teaching foreign languages should start among professionals, however, and many believe that in order to utilise younger children’s in-built skills, they should be introduced to languages other than their mother tongue at an earlier age.
The language spoken in our homes when we are babies will start to be recognised from as early as six months and by around a year, babies are usually speaking the odd word themselves. By the age of two, they are beginning to understand many more words and master sentence structure.
By around 30 – 36 months old, it’s thought that around 90 per cent of what children say is grammatically correct and therefore, they have pretty much mastered their language.
In many homes, more than one language will be spoken, and in this case, children will usually have mastered both to this level by the same age, showing that they are very adaptable to learning a number of languages from a very early age.
If we think about how these babies learn their first words and sentences, it is very rarely through formal teaching methods. Once they begin to speak, parents and other adults are likely to correct them as and when they get things wrong, but on the whole, they learn by listening, imitating and immersing themselves in the language.
And there are many benefits to children from learning additional languages too. Studies by Harvard University confirm that learning more than one language increases a young child’s thinking skills, creativity and flexibility. Pupils who learn a foreign language have been shown to do better in spoken and maths tests too, showing that the practice helps with cognitive skills as well as purely linguistic ones.
Despite the fact that children show an aptitude for learning languages, and that doing so appears to enrich their lives, we see very few products launched by children’s industries which help to introduce or teach languages.
There are some great apps on the market, such as Special Words from Special iApps, Learn Spanish with Animals, and Tiggly Safari and a few toys with foreign language versions or multilingual options, such as Bananagrams.
Although not prescribed by the government or curriculum, often foreign languages are a popular choice of education for young children at pre-schools, children’s centres, private nurseries, etc, and we feel there is a bit of a gap in the market for children’s industries to encourage learning languages through play and everyday activities.
So why not consider the following when your next round of product development comes around:
- Introduce any word games you offer in different language versions
- If your products name everyday objects, such as food types or animals, why not add the word in another language alongside them and introduce a new vocabulary.
- If your product is based on a character, consider introducing another individual to speak and sing in a different language.
- App developers can offer the option to change the language entirely and toys can also offer multilingual options to give consumers the option of adding this element of play.