Much of the world’s population is multilingual
Much of the world’s population is multilingual. According to the British Academy (2017) , two thirds of children globally are raised in bilingual environments. While this is an astonishingly impressive figure, the United Kingdom has sustained the mindset of ‘English is enough’. The assumption is that it is the role of foreigners to speak English, should they wish to communicate with British citizens. Many fail to recognise how small-scale the English language really is. Researchers at the British Academy (2017) found that only six percent of the global population speak English and seventy-five percent speak no English at all. In fact, the most spoken languages globally are Chinese, with 1.82 billion speakers, and Spanish, with 437 million speakers (Statista, 2018) . This raises the question of should the government take more responsibility for ensuring that children learn a second language at a younger age. While it is compulsory for children to learn a second language from the age of ten in Scotland and England, many feel it should be imposed as early as nursery, when a child is three. Thus, this essay will examine the various reasons as to why it is pivotal for the government to ensure that British children learn to be bilingual from as young as three years old.
For many years, researchers have believed that introducing a second language to children before they reach puberty will allow them to speak more fluently, almost as though they were native citizens. (Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2018) At this stage in life, language is learned and retained better. Moreover, it has been said that children who are bilingual will speak with exceptional pronunciation. Globally, it is accepted that the young children are more successful at imitating sounds, which is due to the immature brain being more accepting of new concepts and ideas. Furthermore, many experts have conducted studies that demonstrate the ability of bilingual children to successfully distinguish speed-sound contrasts from multiple languages, while marrying meaning to different words to create meaning. With such astounding research, it seems remarkable that the British schooling system is yet to follow in the steps of its fellow countries an ultimately improve the economy of the UK
Both scientific and academic literature often debate the effects of speaking multiple languages on brain function and cognitive ability. Many studies have shown that bilingual children have an enhanced cognitive processing in comparisons to monolingual individuals. This is because of being able to constantly shift from one language to another. According to Wlassoff (2018), a scientific and medical PhD, this shift between languages ‘is assumed to be sustained by functional and anatomical changes in the brain, suggesting that there are structural and functional neuronal differences between monolingual and multilingual children’. Wlassoff (2018) argues that multilingual people appear to undergo shifts in certain brain networks, which enables them to control their own ability to speak different tongues. This fact alone should make the government consider change the stage at which schools begin teaching languages.
The concept of language consists of four key features: the sound system (referred to as ‘phonology’), the meaning system (referred to as ‘semantics’), the rules of word formation (referred to ‘morphology’) and the rules of sentence formation (referred to as ‘syntax’). These different segments are heavily involved in the acquisition of learning different languages. The optimal period for utilising these features is heavily debated. While this essay argues that children are more enabled to learn different native tongues, many are of the belief that adults are more capable of understanding complex and intellectual theories. However, it is widely accepted that a child’s brain actively seeks education and children are generally more motivated to pick up sounds and words than an adult who falls into a sense of comfort, using set words and phrases. (Piaget) Adults become satisfied with a limited range of vocabulary, while a child will explore new meanings out of curiosity. This again proves that is would be more beneficial to people and the country if children started learning second language before puberty.
A baby’s life begins in the stage of phonology, which is the sound system. The phonetic system, while considered the smallest in the brain, is pivotal in the growth and development of an adolescent brain. In the late 1960s, it was stated that language is mainly acquired during a crucial period in a human’s life, defined as the stage between birth and puberty. (Neuron, 2010) At this moment in an individual’s life, maturational forces lead the left-hand-side of the brain’s hemisphere towards specialisation for languages (Winkler et al., 1999) . This process is presumed to be finalised before puberty ends, regardless of how much of the language has been learnt. This does suggest that after this stage, language is not acquired through the neural systems but through mechanisms intended for general learning. This raises the question of ‘should the government take more responsibility for ensuring that children learn a second language at a younger age?’ the answer to this is of course, yes!
In the United Kingdom, a child will begin to learn an additional language from the age of ten, however, studies as suggested above present the argument that a child will be more capable of learning many different languages while in the stage of phonology. As discussed this is the phase of learning by sound. Should the education system in the United Kingdom introduce languages in nursery, the country could enhance the capability of the nation’s young generation later in life. An additional argument in favour of the introduction of language in a child’s early life, suggests that the capability of one to speak multiple languages enhances their own ability in general education. For example, it is argued that an individual’s grammar and ability to conceptualise different theories and concepts is impacted positively. It is apparent from the evidence stated above that the Government needs to start taking more responsibility for the future of our country and make sure children begin earning a second language earlier.
Our children are the future of the economy; they are future consumers, educators and leaders. Encouraging the education system to invest in the post-millennial generation is focal in the success of the British economy. While many may dispute that this is extra expenditure that the government do not have, one would suggest that this investment will benefit the country in a great deal of ways such as, the creation of more jobs. If the Government were to decide to start teaching languages earlier, there would be a much higher demand for modern languages teachers, thus more available jobs. It is clear that a change of the age that we begin to teach children a second language will open many doors to the future of the United Kingdom. It is time that we leave behind the traditional ignorance that we find ourselves living in and jump into the twenty-first century. Perhaps then we will catch up with our fellow countries across the globe that are arguably more intelligent and subject to a different dimension of cognitive capability.