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When to begin teaching English to our children is a question many progressive parents ask themselves. For many years, English has been the language of global communication, so the importance of learning it is beyond doubt. The pandemic has shown us that you can successfully study and work remotely anywhere on the planet, the boundaries are increasingly evaporating. Therefore, in order to ensure a brilliant future for their children, parents strive to send them to language clubs and schools from an early age.
Even in a monolingual family, it is possible to raise a bilingual child if the necessary efforts are made. The main idea is to approach the issue comprehensively and start on time. But it is important that the child feels comfortable doing new things.
Psychologists and teachers can’t come to a common opinion on this issue. Some believe that you need to start as early as possible, others think it’s necessary to attain a certain level of mastery in one’s native language first.
One of the most popular learning approaches is based on the concept of the ’sensitive period’. The idea is that at each age period, children are especially sensitive to certain types of activities.
This concept was introduced by the famous Soviet psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, then the Italian teacher Maria Montessori refined the approach. She identified the following stages in the sensitive period of speech development:
These general development models should be taken into consideration when starting to teach Russian and other languages. Also, you should keep in mind that whenever you start, it is very important to be consistent and frequent.
Supporters of such an early start believe that babies initially perceive a foreign language, like their native language, in a natural way or unconsciously. At this age, they already react to the speech of adults, trying to imitate sounds. Therefore, you can sing lullabies to children, read rhymes or just talk to them in English.
The learning process is still passive, efforts are required not from the child, but from the adult. Non-native parents definitely need to work on their pronunciation so that the baby perceives the correct speech.
During this period, speech develops rapidly. Together with the native language, you can teach the child a foreign one. The main activity and way of discovering the world at this age is through play. Of course, it still requires a lot of involvement from adults. There’s no meaning attached if the child plays alone, it’s important that the parent or a teacher voices every action in English, provides explanations and motivates the child to action.
Most experts are inclined to believe that this is the most appropriate age to start. Speech skills have already been formed, the children continue to discover the world around them and easily absorb new knowledge. In addition to language skills, English classes perfectly develop such basic cognitive processes as attention, memory, thinking, perception, imagination.
Another psychological feature of children at this age that also plays an important role in successful learning: they are not afraid to apply the gained knowledge in practice, they are not hindered by the language barrier.
At this age, the craving for knowledge is still strong. However, by the age of 5, children are already quite clearly aware of themselves in relation to society and strive for social approval. Therefore, despite the fact that knowledge is still easy to assimilate, there may be problems in practice - usage. Of course, a lot depends on the child’s character, its features are already beginning to emerge. But the fear of making mistakes at this age often makes learning difficult. To prevent the formation of language barriers, it is important to create a truly comfortable classroom environment and a supportive atmosphere. Children should understand that a foreign language, as with their native tongue, is primarily a means of communication.
The closer they get to adolescence and the next personality crisis, the less interest children begin to show in learning. But social connections become more and more important. The desire for approval, first of all by peers, and then by adults, grows. Children are often simply afraid to make a mistake and be ridiculed. This can be a real problem when trying to reach a fluent level of language proficiency. To avoid such difficulties, teachers are advised to maintain a friendly classroom environment and be gentle on mistakes.
Our 27 years of teaching experience indicates that the most appropriate age to introduce a foreign language is 3 years old. During this period, children no longer depend on the mother so much, they can keep their attention on one object for a longer time and begin to strive for independence. The main activity for them is still playing. Supported by an authentic foreign language environment, it gives excellent results.
At the British International School, we are happy to accept students at a later age as well. Our teachers are convinced that it is possible to master the language well at any conscious age. Of course, the later the start, the more that success depends on the student's motivation.
Modern parents face a difficult choice as there are now a lot of clubs, kindergartens and schools with an English bias. Their approaches and quality of education are different. But if the goal is to master the language really well in order to be able to continue studies or find a job abroad in the future, we recommend that you approach your choice of an appropriate educational institution especially seriously.
The British International School teaches children according to the English national curriculum. We provide our students with the same education they can get in private schools in the UK. Every year the Council of British International Schools inspects us thoroughly according to the same standards as English schools. We not only always confirm our accreditation but also we are being graded as outstanding for every area.
Our secret is a multicultural environment. From the first days at school, we immerse children in an environment where English is all around. They listen to the correct speech of native teachers, learn poetry, play, sing, draw and perform - all in a foreign language. At first, Russian-speaking assistants work together with native English-speaking teachers to make the children as comfortable as possible to study.