There was an article released through the AP Press explaining the research behind how children become bilingual so easily. Even non-linguists have to admit that words are just made up of sounds. Each language has a set of sounds associated with it. The research says that by the age of one a toddler knows the sounds for the language they are learning. This implies that they will not recognize (nor in some cases, be able to pronounce) the sounds for other languages. So, for language learning to be truly easy, the young child needs to be exposed before the age of one on a regular basis. This job falls to the parents. However, learning words in a second language is relatively easy until the age of 7. By that time, the children are in school.
While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty… Yet a soon-to-be-released survey from, a nonprofit organization that researches language issues, shows U.S. elementary schools cut back on over the last decade. About a quarter of were teaching in 1997, but just 15 percent last year, say preliminary results posted on the center’s Web site.
Our school district is ahead of many schools who do not offer full time language instruction until High School. But at the same time, are we 5 to 6 years to late to make it easy for the students? I would see a lot less frustration in the classroom if they had the duel brain architecture for both sets of sounds.
There is a second prong to this study. They are hoping to take the findings and apply them to technology.
“We think the magic that kids apply to this learning situation, some of the principles, can be imported into learning programs for adults,” says Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the, who is part of an international team now trying to turn those lessons into more teachable technology.
The world has been globalized. The only barrier between people making more global connections is the language. It would be awesome if everyone had the ability to learn a little bit of other languages. Even learning the basics in a language can bring about more cultural understanding.
Thinking about language learning and technology made me think about an old Farside cartoon that a student brought into class last year.