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Learning a 2nd, or even 3rd language will not hamper a child's general learning

Written by: Paula Luckhoff

Many parents accept research that proves childhood is the best time to learn a new language.

But there are some who still believe learning another language will only confuse their child.

This is an especially relevant topic in a multi-lingual country like South Africa, where the school curriculum is expanding to include more vernacular languages.

Dr Michelle White, a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics at Stellenbosch University, says her latest research shows that a new language does not hamper a child's general learning.

A group of Grade R pupils who had just started learning English, were monitored over that first year.

We did a few tests with them - we did an English language proficiency test and we also did some working memory tests which is the cognitive abilities you need to be able to achieve good grades in school and to be able to actually learn language.

Dr Michelle White, Post-doctoral Fellow in Linguistics - Stellenbosch University

It's very important to introduce children to language as early as possible, because the younger they are the more like a sponge they are.

Dr Michelle White, Post-doctoral Fellow in Linguistics - Stellenbosch University

She notes that further on in life, this will also help them to express themselves in that other learned language in daily life.

So, if it has been established that learning more than one language at a young age does not hamper a child's learning ability in other areas, does the research in fact show that this can improve their ability in other areas?

Dr White says there's still no definitive answer to that question.

The research is still a bit split at the moment as to if there's a very positive impact on a child's ability to learn and achievement and working memory as well if they learn an extra language, or if there's actually no effect.

Dr Michelle White, Post-doctoral Fellow in Linguistics - Stellenbosch University

Many researchers find that these children are able to improve a bit and have improved working memory abilities if they know more than one language.

Dr Michelle White, Post-doctoral Fellow in Linguistics - Stellenbosch University

The point is, she says, for parents not to be afraid of bilingualism.

To read White's research online, go to https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13670050.2019.1571009

To hear the full discussion with Africa Melane, click on the link below:


This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Learning a 2nd, or even 3rd language will not hamper a child's general learning




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