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The Best Age for Kids to Learn a Second Language

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.

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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If there's anything better than dressing your kids up in adorable holiday outfits, it's gotta be matching them.

We rounded up seven of our favorite looks for this season. 🎁

1. Classic Christmas for kids

Go crisp, clean, classic and Christmassy with a Short Sleeve Smocked Holiday Dress from Feltman Brothers.

Short Sleeve Smocked Holiday Dress, Feltman Brothers, $67.95

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Classic Christmas made modern for mama

Match your cotton cutie in a crisp and modern shirtdress that can last you far beyond Christmas.

Kowtow Monologue Shirt Dress, Garmentory, $93.00

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2. Nordic-themed sweater set

Get cozy + complimentary with black and red family sweaters that you can wear all winter long.

Oh Sno Happy Christmas Collection, Hanna Andersson, $68 - $92

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3. Matchy matchy mommy

A super-affordable option for the matchy matchy mama.

Emmababy Mommy and Me Matching Plaid Long Sleeve Shirt Dress + Princess Tulle Tutu Dress, $14.99

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4. Mommy + me tutus

Tutus make everything, including the holidays, a bit more magical. Grab a matching set to enjoy a twirl with your girl.

Mommy and Me Tulle Tutus, Etsy, $110.00

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5. The perfect plaid dress

Quick! This one is perfect, grab it fast.

Ruffle Trim Babydoll Dress for Toddler Girls, Old Navy, $20.00

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Mama's plaid

Mama deserves ruffles and plaid, too.

Relaxed Plaid Twill Classic Shirt, $24.00, Old Navy

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6. Best sweater set yet

Moms and sons can play match-up, too. Grab a sweater set you can return to the entire season.

Festivewear Sweater Sets, Boden, $55.00-$130.00

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7. Big blue

Light up the night with Santa's sleigh and a sleek little number for mama.

Festive Big Applique Dress, Boden, $48.00

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Blue for you, too

The perfect LBD (little blue dress).

Flippy Pencil Dress, Boden, $170.00

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Ask a group of 10 mamas to define or describe mom guilt and you will likely get 10 different responses. We all associate feelings of guilt with different parenting situations that are as unique as we are. It ranges from feeling guilty about snapping at your children when you're run down, feeding them sugary snacks or leaving for an overnight work trip.

We feel guilt for big and small things, for things we did and didn't do and everything in between.

As a coach helping new moms adjust to motherhood, it's a big topic and one that repeatedly comes up. While it's not always labeled as mom guilt, those feelings of overwhelm, balancing what we're focusing our time on, or feeling bad that we haven't had a date night or a girls' night out in months, it usually circles back to guilt.

Guilt, when not addressed, can be quite a consuming feeling. It can become a bad habit, one that grows over time until soon you second-guess everything that you do for fear of feeling guilty afterward.

While I could certainly share my own experiences with guilt, I know they may not encompass the wide spectrum of mom guilt. So I asked some of my friends, colleagues and fellow moms to help me share stories of mom guilt, and I was surprised at some of the answers.

Here's what they had to say:

When do you experience mom guilt?

1. When I'm trying to blend work and life

"I have a job that has a lot of flexibility so I am around a lot more than other full-time jobs but a lot of the time I never feel like I am fully present. I am always taking phone calls and worrying about clients. It's hard to push that out of mind and focus fully on the kids."

2. When I lose my temper

"I lose my temper with my daughter all the time, and it's usually because I'm tired. When I don't parent with grace and instead react out of anger or frustration, I feel terrible, especially because it probably could have been prevented if I had gone to bed earlier the night before."

3. When I have to travel for work

"Two weeks ago I was out of town for a work conference and found out our 1-year-old had fallen down the stairs the night before and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He was completely fine (just had an ear infection), but I felt guilty that I wasn't there.

"I kept thinking if I had been there I would have been an extra pair of hands and my husband wouldn't have been so stressed trying to get everyone ready for bed. I felt guilty that my husband had to go through that terrifying experience alone. I felt guilty that I couldn't be there for several more days to hold my baby and have physical proof he was okay."

4. When I had a hard time with breastfeeding

"I was unable to exclusively breastfeed my babies past four months. My milk supply couldn't keep up, and truthfully, I wasn't willing to be attached to my pump and eat all kinds of supplements to try to increase my milk. So we just started using formula. With my first born, I cried over this many times. I was disappointed and felt guilty that I wasn't giving her breast milk. But eventually I came to appreciate the conveniences of formula, and my guilt subsided.

"I was surprised when my son was born and we made the switch to formula again that [the guilt] crept back up. I remember bottle-feeding my newborn and feeling like I had to tell everyone in the room that the bottle was breast milk. Why is that?! Why do we need to slip it into the conversation that we're giving our kid breast milk or justify why we're not? When I stopped producing enough, that was disappointing but to be honest, I didn't love breastfeeding and felt a little relieved that it was over, and that made me feel guilty too. Why didn't I love something I was literally designed to do? Did I give up too easily? And would I have loved it if I had had a normal supply? I wrestled with these questions a lot."

5. When I feel like I'm working too much

"Luckily, I do not have to do morning drop off (that's my husband's realm). Avoiding the daycare drop off has been huge in terms of avoiding mom guilt on a regular basis. I typically do not feel guilty while I'm at work because I get a fair amount of fulfillment from my work, which I think makes me a better mom at the end of the day.

"However, I feel very guilty when my work bleeds into what should be time with my family (evenings and weekends). This happened a lot last school year (new school districts and new preps = 55-60 hour work weeks). I felt very guilty having to tell my son I couldn't play or couldn't go to the zoo with him and his dad on a Sunday because I had to work."

How do you move past the guilt?

It happens to the best of us, and it happens pretty frequently. Feeling guilty over certain circumstances, behavior and decisions is a part of parenting. So how do you move past those feelings of mom guilt? What can you think or do instead?

These were some of my favorite tips:

1. Be grateful

"Instead of feeling bad about yourself for something you can't control, try to be grateful. For example, write out gratitude l that you can afford formula and that formula even exists."

2. Talk about it, normalize it

"Talk about your experience when it comes up in conversation to normalize it—for yourself and for any other moms who might be listening. If someone says something offensive or insensitive, give them the benefit of the doubt."

3. Keep busy

"Keeping busy at work or during work travel is the best way to distract yourself and keep your mind off of feeling guilty."

4. Forgive yourself

"Accidents will happen whether you are there all the time or not, no matter how careful you are. The same thing could have happened even if you hadn't been away and both parents had been looking out for the kids' safety. It's okay to let yourself off the hook.

"If you lose your patience with your little one and resort to harsh words or actions, make a point to apologize and ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Talk about why you both got upset, and after you hug it out, your guilt will probably have melted away."

5. Set boundaries

"Try setting stronger work boundaries so you can be more present at home. Especially if you don't work a traditional 9-5 job, that flexibility can lead to never being fully present. Find the boundaries that work for you so you can focus on family or work and not both all of the time."

6. Ask yourself some questions

If you feel overcome with mom guilt, try asking yourself:

  • Is your child thriving and happy? (yes)
  • Do theyknow they have a mom who loves them? (yes)
  • Are they learning new lessons/skills at daycare that you maybe wouldn't have even thought to teach them? (yes)

Then, what a lucky kid!

Remember you are not alone

If I can teach you one thing about guilt, it's that whether you feel guilty or not, is completely up to you. You may say, "she made me feel so guilty when she said…" or "hearing her talk about the privilege she has in staying home with her kids made me feel so guilty."

But it's not true. She didn't make you feel guilty. You thought that what she does or how she mothers was better, and that thought created the guilty feeling. Or you felt like you are doing a disservice to your family.

Knowing that, being aware of that, is so powerful.

I hope that by reading these honest stories from other moms who are doing the best that they can, you realize that we all feel it. We all experience mom guilt.

Share your stories, talk about it, normalize it, or challenge yourself with some of those amazing questions about whether your kid is happy, healthy and knows he is loved.

I bet you can talk yourself down off that ledge or pick yourself up out of those feelings of guilt. We all get through them and we get better and stronger every time that we do. Don't avoid the situations that "make you feel guilty". Walk head-on into them knowing you're not alone and knowing you have the tools to get past it.

Many thanks to these amazing women who were willing to share their stories:

  • Brooke Lehenbauer - Stay-at-home mom & part-time family photographer, Mom to a girl and a boy (3 yo and 7 months)
  • Jackie - Sales/Account Management, Mom to 3 kiddos (5, 3 and 1)
  • Lauren Karas - High school teacher, Mom to 3 yo boy and one on the way!
  • MC - Realtor, Mom to 2 boys (4 1/2 and 2 yo)

Originally posted on The Mother Nurture.

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As parents we do the best we can to keep our kids safe while also letting them experience the world, and sometimes this involves assessing risks and deciding what is appropriate for our individual families.

Every parent makes different choices based on their family's values and needs, and there's no reason for mom shaming—or in this case dad shaming—as Pink recently reminded the world via Instagram.

Pink's defense began when her husband, motocross pro Carey Hart, posted a pic of himself on a motorbike with son Jameson, who is nearly two. Internet commenters criticized Hart's decision and his parenting, suggesting that he was putting Jameson in danger by having him on the bike.

In the photo, Hart and Jameson are sitting on the bike while it is still, but some Instagram users were still very critical of Hart's decision to have Jameson up on the bike with him. Some suggested he was endangering his son, and others stated he was wearing the wrong kind of helmet.

After the controversy, Pink posted a photo of Jameson eating chocolate on her own Instagram, joking, "Chocolate is good for babies, right? Help me Instagram, we can't possibly parent without you."

The joke set some commenters off, reigniting the online debate about Hart's parenting skills. "With your husband being in the spotlight so often with his complete lack of regard for proper care or concern at times with your kids, this comment isn't funny, albeit Jameson is adorable, one Instagram user wrote. "Your husband, I'm sorry, lacks the responsibility your kids need in his care."

Pink replied to the commenter, asking (fairly) how this person could feel like they could judge Hart as a father when they'd only seen him parenting through social media posts. "How often have you spent time with my husband?" Pink asked the commenter. "How often have you watched him parent?"

Through that comment, Pink reminded the world that what we see on social media is just one slice of our very complex and busy lives. It's impossible to really know the thought and care each individual puts into the choices they make for their children.

We make choices for our kids every day and they're going to be different from the choices of the parent next door or the next person in our Instagram feed. Our parenting choices are informed by our individual experiences, our beliefs, and everything else that makes us ourselves, everything that makes us unique.

No parent is perfect, but as parents we are perfectly positioned to choose what is appropriate for our individual children.

And we can also make the choice to respect those who parent differently than we do. No shaming necessary.

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The color experts at Pantone recently named the pinky-orange hue Living Coral as the color of the year for 2019, but the Editors of Nameberry have some other shades in mind for 2019. Like Pantone, though, they're predicting nature-inspired colors won't just be big at the paint store, but at the playground as well.

Yes, natural colors and jewels-inspired hues (along with animal names) are predicted to be big trends for baby names in the coming year.

Nameberry's editors have been tracking the 2018 trends to predict which names parents will be picking in 2019, and the palette is more muted than Pantone's for sure. According to Nameberry's editors, parents are shifting away from the intense hues (like Scarlett, Ruby and Poppy) toward more chill tones.

These are Nameberry's picks for color-inspired names for 2019:

  1. Ash
  2. Fawn
  3. Grey/Gray
  4. Ivory
  5. Lavender
  6. Lilac
  7. Mauve
  8. Moss
  9. Olive
  10. Sage

You don't have to look to the crayon box for baby name inspo to be on trend for next year—you could also look in your jewelry box. According to Nameberry, jewel and gem-inspired names are surging for both boys and girls and some can even be gender neutral.

Namberry is betting some precious babies will be getting these precious names next year:

  1. Amethyst
  2. Emerald
  3. Garnet
  4. Jasper
  5. Jet
  6. Onyx
  7. Opal
  8. Peridot
  9. Sapphire
  10. Topaz

It's not just colors and gems from nature that are trending, but animal-inspired names, too. On-trend parents might look to the forest for more name inspiration in 2019.

According to Nameberry, these animal-based names are set to trend in 2019:

  1. Bear
  2. Falcon
  3. Fox
  4. Hawk
  5. Koala
  6. Lion
  7. Lynx
  8. Otter
  9. Tiger
  10. Wolf

Some of the names Nameberry has predicted here (like Jasper, which was within the official top 200 baby names of 2017, according to the Social Security Administration,) are already fairly popular, while others (like Koala and Bear) are so statistically unpopular right now they aren't even charting on the SSA's baby name list.

Time will tell which of these nature-inspired names can take on Liam and Emma in the near future and whether Coral can go from being Pantone's 2019 pick to parents' pick in 2020.

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