Conquerors of Knowledge : The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. If I receive an e-mail written in English from your 8-year-old, Korean student, this makes me even happier. Especially, when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English, his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common in teacher-parents meetings for parents to voice their concern on language learning. Drawing from our experience, we find that for our adult minds learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, it is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere, usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. It takes thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but, also, on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.

Click to watch the TED Ed presentation:

Bilingual Brain - TEDEd

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About Nikos Kritsantonis

Nikos Kritsantonis has been working in international education the past 10 years. His experience has been enriched, both professionally and culturally, by working in diverse school environments in Europe and Asia as a Homeroom teacher, Theater manager and Drama Coordinator. Nikos sees himself as a facilitator of students' knowledge. He is passionate about implementing technology and design thinking to his practice, and his educational philosophy aligns with the inquiry-driven educational movement. He believes that the teachers’ role is to create learning environments where kids will find the space to unfold their unique talents.