“The child is not a vessel that is filled, but a fire that is lit”. Montaigne
“What language should my child learn?” This is the recurring question for parents, when choosing the first or second foreign language for their child. The question is complex and the answer is difficult to give. This type of choice depends on various individual and family criteria. Nevertheless, the following criteria will help you to make a wise choice.
1- Motivation and Success
The best foreign language to learn is the one your child will learn successfully. And motivation, as in any other subject, is one of the most important factors when it comes to successful language learning.
If your child learns a language because he or she knows that he or she will need it in the near future (to feel comfortable on a foreign vacation or to communicate in the country that you are moving to) or the distant future (to enter a specific school or to study abroad for a specific job), then his or her motivation to learn will be what is known as “extrinsic motivation”.
But there is another type of motivation that plays a major role in learning a language, and this is known as “intrinsic motivation”. Communicating with a friendly teacher, receiving positive feedback, experiencing joy and pleasure in conversation, and feeling the progress made in a new language are all learning engines.
It is important to note that no amount of books read or movies viewed in the target language can ever replace communication with a genuine, native interlocutor.
2- The importance of each language in the world
Of course, each language has its own substantial field of influence. The choice of a language can therefore be guided by its importance in the world. The top 3 most widely spoken languages in the world are:
1- Mandarin, which is the most widely spoken language in the world today. It has nearly 860 million native speakers and 450 million people who speak it as a second language.
2- English, which is the first official language of a hundred or more countries. Native English speakers total around 425 million, distributed across every continent. English is also one of the most influential languages because, apart from being an official language, it is also the “first second language” chosen by nearly 750 million people.
3- Spanish, with about 340 million native speakers. In addition to Spain, Spanish is spoken in nearly 31 countries, most of which are in Latin America.
3- The difficulty of each language and its benefits
Some languages are more difficult than others to master. For example, an English speaker will need an average of 2,200 hours, or 88 weeks of lessons to speak something of Japanese. The Chinese, the Arab and the Korean take about the same amount of time. Conversely, it is estimated that it takes 23 to 24 weeks, or 600 hours, for an English speaker to achieve the same level in Spanish or Italian.
But whatever language you learn, exercise is always excellent for the brain. Learning Chinese, a non Indo-European language, with radically different language patterns has a very positive impact on a student’s comprehension of language in general, thus indirectly improving his or her knowledge of other languages. This has been highlighted in a study published in 2016, in the journal Nature: the more languages we learn and the younger we learn them, the better equipped we are to learn new languages.
So there’s no time to lose! Let your kids start learning a new language today. They will be eternally grateful to you.