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The Best Age for Kids to Learn a Second Language

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Do you dream of your son flipping between 4 different languages as you sip Prosecco overlooking an Italian sunset or dream of visiting Paris with a daughter who can negotiate like a local?


If that’s what your into, when should you start encouraging them to start learning a foreign language? Is it as soon as they can talk, or should you hold off until they have mastered English?  Let’s find out what works:

Well, all researchers agree that the earlier a child starts learning a second language, the better, for more reasons than one. Some researchers say that second language acquisition skills peak at or before the age of 6 or 7. Others claim that this window extends through puberty. But, they all agree that it’s much harder for a child beyond puberty to learn a new language.

Below, you will find all prevailing viewpoints and their backup arguments for your reference as a means to help you make the most informed decision possible.

Why start at the age of 3 or 4?

If you asked that question some years ago, everybody would look at you as if you were an alien. It was inconceivable for children as young as three years of age to be able to learn a second language, given that they have not yet mastered their mother tongue. Nowadays, though, research findings indicate something totally different.

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Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age. Preschool years, especially the first three years of life, are believed to be a vital period in a child’s life. This is when the foundations for attitudes, thinking, and learning, among others, are laid down.

“This means that children have a natural ability to learn, which is developed during the first 3-4 years of their life.”

Using that ability is much encouraged because, always according to research, learning a second language is as easy as learning the first. It may sound like a huge burden, but, in fact, it’s not.

The human brain is a wonderful thing. From the moment we are born, we learn by six main ways, by:

  • Sight
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Doing.

Based on the information we gain in our first few years, everything we have learned grows later in life. Research has shown that 50% of our ability to learn is developed by age 4 and another 30% by age 8. This is why three-year-olds are encouraged to learn a second language.

However, this doesn’t mean that 80% of one’s knowledge or intelligence is formed until they are 8 years old. It simply means that children develop their main learning pathways during their first few years of life.

A teacher at Moreton First Prep School says that 3-year olds who attend the preschool class enhance their spoken English through play and songs. They learn French at the same time, through similar fun activities, music, and stories. So, it’s not uncommon to hear little ones singing French songs at that school.

But that’s not all. These children are exposed to a third language: Mandarin Chinese, which they also become familiar with quite effortlessly through games and props. And, on top of everything else, they also get to play while having a Spanish teacher watching over and interacting with them!

Incredible as it may sound, learning is indeed achieved, and children don’t even realize they are learning not one but three foreign languages! Why? Because studies have shown that the younger the learner, the more they can adopt pronunciations and recreate new sounds. And, children around the age of three or four can learn through play because their minds aren’t yet overwhelmed by facts and information that needs to be stored and assessed, which is something that happens as we grow older.

 “Bilingual children that learn a second language from an early age sound like a native in both.”

 A study conducted by a director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory for language and child development at Dartmouth College (Hanover) has demonstrated that after the teen years, the brain changes and makes it extremely challenging (if possible at all) for an adult to learn a foreign language. This doesn’t mean that they can’t learn it; just that they won’t do so the same way as a child because the mechanisms that help language learning are not the same as they are at ages 2-5.

“Another interesting fact is that children learn a second language better if they picked it up in their communities of families, rather than the classroom.”

And, besides the added fluency, bilingual children not only speak two languages sooner than other single-language peers but are also better in tasks that call for a shift in attention. Also, research has demonstrated that children who first mastered their mother tongue and then learned a second language became fluent in the foreign language but never managed to attain the level of excellence of those that learned both languages in one go.

 What About Children from Bilingual Families?

Everything depends on the situation the family is in. For example, a child that was born to a British mother and an Italian father living in the UK can start to learn both languages the moment he is born.

On the other hand, a child of school age from, say, Germany, that emigrates to the UK is forced to learn the new language – English – as soon as possible. This could take quite a few years, depending on the child’s age, to reach a native English speaker’s level. It won’t happen easily or quickly, so it’s advised that parents, in these cases, don’t have high (unrealistic) expectations around the learning of the second language.

Why learn at early adolescence (11-13 years of age)?

A study of 17,000 British children learning French at school has shown that children who had started learning at the age of eleven performed better at second language proficiency tests, compared to those that had started at around eight years of age. So far, that particular study is the largest one of children learning a foreign language in a classroom setting, ever. These findings were consistent with those of other studies of Danish students learning English and Swiss children learning French.

Also, it has been found that adolescents who learn a foreign language before they turn 15 have a better pronunciation of the second language, which is described as almost native-like. Again, though, the younger they start learning the second language, the more they develop a native-like accent.

On the other hand, children older than 15, as well as adults, are found to be better at learning a new language than younger children. This is because there are experiential and cognitive limitations in young children than adolescents and adults don’t have, which allows them to learn faster.

What if a second language comes to replace the first language?

In this case, if the first language hasn’t been developed properly and the child was forced to learn a second one, there are dangers that should be avoided.

“According to research, double semi-lingualism in young children of a second language doesn’t allow the child to be proficient in either one of the two languages.”

As for parents that push their children to spend more time learning a second language, they should be careful. Maybe, the child will have to reduce or even cut some other subject(s) to find enough time to devote to second language acquisition. Is this something you’d want for your child?

Older learners, though, are more efficient learners and need less time to “conquer” something new. Therefore, when acquiring a native-speaker-like pronunciation is not highly sought after, adolescents will do just fine.

What about Bilingual Children that Mix words from their Two Languages? Should you be Worried about That?

It is common for children that are learning two languages to mix words from one language to the other. This is call “code-switching” or “code-mixing” and is not something that should worried you. And, it certainly is NOT a sign that they are struggling with bilingualism, so you can heave a sigh of relief.

In fact, code-switching is a highly appreciated and skilled form of language use in the academic community.

It is a natural form of using the language among people that learn two languages and is perceived as a complex, yet rich, form of discourse.

Yes, you may come across viewpoints that condemn code-switching coming from education and health professionals that see it as a hurdle to the language development of children. This couldn’t be further from the truth, though. It’s been evidenced that all bilinguals (no matter their age) code-switch from time to time, which is not an indication of language disorder or confusion.

When it comes to pre-schoolers who learn a second language, they can code-switch for a plethora of reasons. Given that bilingual children are usually not equally proficient in both languages, they will code-switch while having a conversation with others. They will, sometimes, select words they are more familiar with, regardless of which language they come from. This, of course, results in mixing up words from both languages in a sentence.

It should also be noted that bilingual children (even two-year-olds) are remarkably familiar with the language preferences of the person they are having a conversation with. This makes them perfectly capable of using the best of both languages to deliver their message across their peers. So, it’s not uncommon to see bilingual children using the language their conversation partner is best fond of!

Once they reach the age of four, bilingual children are more aware of which language to use in the community and public places. You can also expect them to have developed sufficient vocabulary in both their mother tongue and second language and be more able to sustain a conversation in one language, rather than code-switching.

Clearly, small children are miraculous language learners with great potential and abilities we parents, don’t believe they can have at such young age!  If code-switching is uncommon in their community and household, children will adapt to the patterns and separate the languages. If, on the other hand, code-switching is common, they will continue using code-mixing to fill the language vocabulary gaps, which is definitely praise-worthy!

“Also know is that even bilingual children with learning problems and disorders don’t code-switch that often. They just choose which language to use when talking with peers, like any other typically-developing child of their age.”

So, no worries there, either.

It has become apparent that your little angel has great potential and abilities that will help them learn a second language from a very young age while acquiring a native-like pronunciation. Of course, many factors can contribute to the successful acquisition of the second language, with teaching methods used in the school environment being among the top ones. Also, young, bilingual learners are extremely bright and can easily swap from one language to the other with relative ease, to appeal to the peer they are having a conversation with, their family, and community.

And, although research is still an inconclusive and contrasting as per the right age for a child to start learning a second language, you could always give your toddler the opportunity to prove themselves to you. If you see them struggling, you know better than any expert what to do.

After all, there is always time to learn something new, even at a slightly older age. But, I’m pretty sure your adorable pre-schooler will give you a pleasant surprise if you give them a chance!

What’s your experience on your children learning a second language? Do you have any tips or hacks you can share?

 

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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No pregnancy and birth are exactly the same. Each of us has a unique story, and so do our babies. As Hilary Duff proves, a mother's second birth story isn't a just a rerun of her first.

Motherhood changes people, and for Duff welcoming her second child, daughter Banks, at age 31 was a very different experience than birthing her son, Luka, when she was 24.

Luka was born in a hospital, while Banks was born at home, and Duff recently shared a video of that amazing day on Instagram.

Sharing this video clip isn't the first time Duff has opened up about her home birth. In a two-part interview for the Informed Pregnancy podcast released last fall, Duff admitted that at some points in her home birth she was scared and asked herself why she wasn't in a hospital "with all the drugs," but she says she's so glad she did it this way and would totally do it again.

During her first pregnancy, Duff says she started out wanting an elective C-section (although she did not end up having surgery). She was 23 when she and ex-husband Mike Comrie found out they were expecting, and she didn't have a lot of peers who were having kids. She was really scared.

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More than five years later, during her pregnancy with Banks, Duff was way more confident as a woman and a mom. She watched Ricki Lake's 2008 documentary "The Business of Being Born" and started considering a different kind of birth plan the second time around.

"I'm older now. I love motherhood more than anything—I never thought I would be this way, I never thought I could be so happy and so fulfilled. It's not easy, because being a parent is not easy, but it's just a joy. And I thought to myself that I want to like fully get the full experience of what it is like to bring a baby into the world," Duff tells the host of Informed Pregnancy, prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor doula Dr. Elliot Berlin.

Having support from Matt, Haylie and her mom

When Duff brought the idea up with her partner, Matthew Koma, he "was amazing," she explains. He had some questions, but was down to support Duff in her birthing choices.

Duff says she thinks her mom Susan and sister Haylie were "nervous to think about not being in a hospital" at first, but once Duff explained things a bit and got to talk to them about her doula and midwives, Haylie got really pumped about the idea.

"She was so supportive and amazing. I think my mom was a little more worried but she got behind me," Duff recalls, adding that because her mom had C-sections herself, even seeing Duff deliver Luka vaginally in a hospital was a bit of a different experience for her, so being there for the home birth was taking things to an unfamiliar level.

"The first time she saw me having a contraction in the house she was cooking bacon for Luka," Duff explains, adding that she had to pause the conversation she was having and squat down during the contraction.

With the family around and the TV on, Duff's labor progressed a little slower than she'd imagined.

"When I pictured my birth I didn't picture watching Guardians of the Galaxy on TV. Luka was like explaining the characters to me," she explains.

The birth

Duff says when she was moved to the birthing tub, her brain really let her body take over. After the birth she estimated she was in the tub for about 30 minutes, but Koma told her it was really more like 90. "My brain disconnected," she says. "I remember telling myself that I don't need to be here for all of this."

At one point, she looked at one of her midwives and said, 'I'm really scared right now." Exhausted and unable to hold her body up as she channeled all her energy into pushing, Duff let her team hold her legs and arms while she pushed.

When Banks' head emerged, it didn't feel quite like the birth videos Duff has seen.

"Honestly, when I got her head out I was shocked by the feelings," she told Dr. Berlin. "I've seen women reach down and pull their baby out, and I couldn't do that…I was like, okay I'm there, I'm there, I've got to finish this job, but it was like really intense. It wasn't pleasant at that point. I think I wasn't fully in my headspace, my body was doing what it needed to do. It wasn't until her body came out that I could like want to grab onto her and bring her up out of the water."

Baby Banks needed some breaths from a midwife when she was first pulled from the water, but because her son Luka was also born looking a little blue, Duff says she wasn't freaked out. Once she figured out how to breathe, little Banks did "the most amazing thing," her mama recalls.

"They hand her to me, and I'm looking at her—and you know, babies are like floppy little worms, they just don't have any control—and she reaches up both of her arms right at my neck as to give me a hug. It was so clearly a hug."

Duff says the hug made her feel like baby Banks was saying something: "Like, good [teamwork] mom, we did it."

To hear the whole interview, check out the Informed Pregnancy podcast.

[This article was originally published November 14, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Several years ago, when I was a high school teacher and not a mom, my ninth grade students took a values assessment in class. The point was to determine what motivated them in life: money, family, success, a moral compass, education, relationships, religion, care for the environment, etc. I thought, what the heck, I'll take it, too.

When I got the results, I was shocked.

My number one value was beauty. Not family or morality, not relationships or religion. Beauty. I had never felt so shallow in my entire life. The description said something to the effect of: "You need to be in a place that is aesthetically pleasing to feel at peace," and went onto say that I would value the arts more than others and prioritize making a space beautiful.

And the truth is: It was absolutely 100% accurate.

Before I became a mom, I spent a lot of time beautifying our space. I would tidy up a pile of books, vacuum streaks into the carpet several days a week. I couldn't stand the sight of piles of dishes on the counter, nor a pile of clothes on the floor. I would change decor seasonally. I would cut fresh flowers and put them around the house, light candles, dim lights, put on quiet music when company came. It wasn't completely because I was trying to impress—it was because I liked it that way.

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And then came kids.

Every pile of books I've tidied has been pulled onto the floor. The vacuum chokes down crumbs and bits of paper maybe once a week. For three years straight, I've had a breakdown on Christmas-decorating day. We pick fresh flowers together, but I somehow always forget to notice when their vibrant petals turn to spindly black stalks. Now, when company comes, my children greet them with big grins in dirty clothes, and I yell from my kitchen, complete with stacks of unclean dishes, "Sorry, my house is a wreck!"

I had to choose, as we all have to: Do I prioritize housekeeping or parenting?

I remember trying to lay my son down as a newborn. I expected him to sleep peacefully in his woodland-themed room, the room I had put together with great care. But moments after I would fill the sink with sudsy water, I'd hear him cry. I'd run upstairs and pick him up, soothe him to sleep, and lay him back down, only to have it happen again. I felt anxious.What about the dishes? What about the 100 other things on my to-do list?

But when I looked down at that little face, and I saw the most beautiful thing I'd yet to encounter. My values system didn't entirely shift, but my perception did.

This morning, as I sit in the warm morning glow, my baby girl is asleep on my chest. I can see the sunlight dancing across the floor, illuminating the dust and crumbs. From my vantage point, I see little lopsided piles of laundry on my dining room table that is still doubling as a fort for my toddler. And beyond the dining room is the kitchen, and in that kitchen is a sink filled with unclean dishes. The dishes will always be there.

But my baby, with rose-petal lips and a perfect fan of lashes, with skin as flawless as a cloudless sky, she won't be this small ever again.

My house is a mess, but it's a beautiful mess andI wouldn't have it any other way.

Originally posted on With Quiet Hands.

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My dear daughters,
Tomorrow I go back to work, and it's going to be really hard. All I can do is hope that it's harder for me than it is for you. Twelve weeks have come and gone faster than I could've imagined. I thought that going back to work after my second child would be easier, but I actually think it might be harder.

Baby Girl #2, not only have I enjoyed your newborn snuggles every day but Baby Girl #1, I've had special time with you that I'd been missing so much. Because this is my second child, I realize even more how quickly this time goes by—and that I'll never get back these sweet moments.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep thinking about all of the things that people say to me to try to make it better.

People say you'll look up to me and learn to value hard work.

People say it'll be nice to have time away and that it will make our time together more special.

People say that most moms need to work nowadays.

People say you won't remember this and that you'll be fine while I'm away.

Maybe those things are true, but it doesn't make it any easier. Of course, I want you to look up to me and to see the passion and love I have for my job, but I hope you never feel like I'm choosing my job over you.

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As a high school assistant principal, I have 600 other "kids" that I get to take care of, and I love that, but I worry about what I'll lose, what I'll miss out on while I'm away from you. Could your dad I and I make it work on one income? Maybe. But that would come at costs, too.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I realize I'm luckier than most.

I'm lucky that because of his shift you'll get to spend a few days during the week with your dad and get to have special time with him. I'm lucky that he's such a wonderful father and partner who is supportive of my career.

I'm lucky to have a daycare provider that I trust. I'm lucky to have family members who help out whenever needed.

I'm lucky that I love my job and work at a school where you're not only allowed to come in but where my boss and co-workers love you, too and understand that family comes first.

You are both blessed to have so many people who care about you, so I know that when I can't be with you, you are well taken care of, but I still wish it could be me.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and there are a few things I want to promise you.

I want to promise you that for the time we do get to spend together, you will have my attention. I will do my best to turn work off, put my phone down and focus on you two. We will find fun things to do or we will just relax in our jammies and watch movies. But whatever we decide to do during our time together, I will do my best to be present. You both deserve that.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep hoping that by the time you have children, if you choose, that our country realizes that 12 weeks just isn't enough.

I'm sorry that I can't have more time with you, but please know that in our time apart, I'm loving you still. Please know that I'm working hard to provide for you. Please know that when I come home, I will take off all of my other hats and just be Mama because no matter what, that will always be my number one job.

Love,
Mama

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We hear a lot about the wage gap between men and women in the workplace, but the wage gap between mothers and fathers is even wider. Women make just over 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, but if we look at the paychecks of parents only, the gulf widens.

According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analysis of U.S, Census data, mothers only make about 71 cents to a dad's dollar, resulting in a loss of $16,000 in earnings annually.

This, despite the fact that millennial women are getting college degrees at higher rates than men, proving that we can't educate ourselves out of the motherhood penalty.

"Families depend on women's incomes, yet mothers, regardless of their education level, their age, where they live, or their occupation, are paid less than fathers. When mothers are shortchanged, children suffer and poverty rises. Families are counting on us to close the maternal wage gap," says Emily Martin, NWLC General Counsel and Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice.

Why the motherhood penalty (and fatherhood bonus) exist

The gap in the pay between mothers and fathers is due to how parents are perceived in our culture. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology found working mothers are penalized in the form of "lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries."

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And as CNBC reports, a more recent study by childcare provider Bright Horizons found that 41% of American workers perceive working moms as being less devoted to their careers.

But becoming a dad doesn't put dads at a disadvantage, or make them appear less committed. It actually often results in a so-called "fatherhood bonus." A recent study published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, found having kids often results in men earning more, even when they aren't particularly hard workers.

According to the study's lead author, Sylvia Fuller, this suggests that our preconceived cultural ideas about fatherhood are impacting employers thinking and parents' paychecks. "They think dads are working hard, they have positive stereotypes about them, or maybe they just think, you know, dads deserve more because they're thinking of their family responsibilities," Fuller told Global News.

Moms are still the default parent

While parenthood dulls a woman's CV, it gives fathers' a shine because mothers are still seen as the default parent in our culture. Not only do men make more after becoming dads, but researchers have also found that men's leisure time increased after parenthood, while mothers see their workload at home increase. And because the wider society knows that women carry heavier loads at home and spend more work more hours doing unpaid labor, employers see us as distracted by our other responsibilities.

Basically, employers see fathers as people who have big-picture responsibilities to their families and a lot of support in raising their kids. They see moms as the managers of the small stuff and know that many of us don't have a lot of support in managing that load.

Closing the gap by changing the way we view fathers

We can't close this gap by only changing the way employers think about mothers. We also have to change the way our society thinks about dads. Today's dads want to be more involved in their children's lives and have pretty egalitarian beliefs about dividing household responsibilities between partners, but many find they can't live up to those beliefs. Most fathers in America can't take paternity leave and those that have the option of doing so only take about a third of what is available for fear of being seen as uncommitted.

"Fathers repeatedly tell researchers they want to be more involved parents, yet public policy and social institutions often prevent them from being the dads they want to be – hurting moms, dads and children alike," writes Kevin Shafer, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

An investment needs to be made

That extra $16,000 that mothers are missing isn't going to come without investment from society. The United States is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without paid parental leave and also spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries.

Investing in paid family leave and affordable, quality childcare would level the playing field for mothers, but that's just the first part of change that needs to happen. We need employers and lawmakers to implement parental leave policies, but we also need our peers to embrace and encourage their use for all parents.

When fathers are expected and respected as caregivers, mothers are no longer seen as the default parent at home or at work. When the parenting responsibilities equalize, so will the paychecks.

Pay inequality happens all over the world, but the country that has come the closest to closing the gap, Iceland, the majority of fathers take parental leave. That isn't a coincidence, it's a recipe for change.

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