It seems children have an innate understanding of this. “Mommy, how do you say ‘Would you like to play with me’ in Spanish?”, my son asked yesterday. Why would he even bother? After all, he already speaks perfect Romanian, German and some English. Well, because he’s made a new friend at the kindergarten. And his new friend speaks nothing but Spanish. So now my son is ecstatic about Spanish because it is the language that allows him to get in touch with a peer.
When they feel a connection, children have a natural tendency to harmonize with others and meet them halfway. Even before they learn about social norms. It’s a wonderful thing and we should encourage it.
Until the age of 8, children are perfectly capable of learning 3, even 4 languages fluently (native-level fluency). And given half a chance, they are eager to do so. It opens up a whole range of possibilities for them – from understanding cartoons, to communicating with kids from other countries when they go on vacation, to getting a clearer grasp of the wide open world out there. Unless, of course, they are raised in strictly monolingual, monocultural environments. I have heard the argument “They shouldn’t learn a foreign language yet, it’s too early, too stressful, and they’ll forget it anyway if they don’t use it constantly.” Perhaps, in certain contexts, that holds true. You don’t want to overwork your children and burden them with your ambitions. But what if they like it too? Why not give it a shot? It is at kindergarten age that their brain is most inclined to learn. They sop up information, vocabulary, idioms and language structures like a sponge. It’s a pity to let that go to waste. These years will never return.
So do your kids a favor: expose them to a multilingual environment. Get original-language TV, foreign language classes that are playful and enjoyable, foreign music and books. Lay the foundation for your child’s future success as a communicator with a well-balanced education and a well-adjusted personality.