Exploding the myth that children need to choose between second language learning and first language literacy
Norman Doidge, M.D., in his fascinating, hopeful book on neuroplasticity, The BRAIN That CHANGES ITSELF, cites significant research which shows that early learning of second languages in particular benefits the brain. Education stakeholders need to recognise, as scientists do, that “if two languages are learned at the same time, during the critical period (of brain development), both get a foothold.” In fact, if we learn another language prior to the period from 8 years of age to puberty, we can speak it with native pronunciation, something we are unlikely to be able to do beyond this age. So why, in the face of this and a significant body of other research on bi/multilingualism and the brain, does the Languages Key Learning Area still struggle to be seen as important in many Australian schools? Why are children being taken out of Languages classes to “do more literacy”? It takes four to tango – the Federal Government, schools (in which we need to include Principals and Languages teachers in particular, but teachers in general), parents and students. All need to develop a more informed and reflective perspective about this, for the sake of our national capacity and our children’s futures.