Many studies show that one should start foreign language studies as soon as possible, and the peak age of learning the second language is said to be on or before the child reaches the age of 10. After the baby is born, and eventually learned his/her native language, it now gradually starts having its full capacity to learn another or new language just by imitating and hearing his/her environment. The earlier he/she hears the accents and sound of another language, there is much more possibility that he/she will develop it. Added to this, if he/she is also given chance to be exposed in the language, and the opportunity to speak it, chances are that he/she will be able to speak it fluently. This way, the child would treat both the mother tongue and the foreign language equally (http://www.snn-rdr.ca/snn/2003apr/bilingual.html,2003).
One high school principal was quoted saying "A child has only one year of age 5, if the child does not get the education he needs, he will never get it the same way. For example, if the child was afraid of school when he starts grade 1, he will forever have this deep-down fear inside. It would be way too late to fix it anything later." (http://www.snn-rdr.ca/snn/2003apr/bilingual.html,2003). Indeed, it very sensible idea to start learning the second language early because children would be given more time to learn it.
Professor Tony Cline, a psychologist specializing in language development in children, says that science has revised the people's image of how the brain works. Before, people used to think that the brain has limited capacity, like a milk bottle, and that it was impossible to pour two pints of milk into a bottle. But now it is understood that human brains are capable of making an infinite number of connections and that there is no limit to what it can take in. He further reveals that there might be temporary disadvantages in having a bilingual childhood. According to him, the child sometimes applies the rules of one language to another, and so makes mistakes. But these grammatical 'errors' are trivial and soon outgrown. Any slight delays in language development are more than outweighed by the benefits of bilingualism. These include an enlarged cultural repertoire, the boost to intellectual growth that comes from accessing the literature of different countries and the self-evident practical benefits in an era of globalization (http://www.languagemagazine.com/internetedition/mj98/fbb11.html,1998).
Prof. Cline even pointed out that there is an equally important social advantage in learning a foreign language during the early infancy years. Experiments have shown that bilingual children are better at taking the perspective of another person such as having more than one cultural 'identity' heightens one's ability to put himself into someone else's shoes. While the practical usefulness of a language depends on how widely spoken it is internationally, in terms of its broader, more abstract value, all languages are equal (http://www.languagemagazine.com/internetedition/mj98/fbb11.html,1998).
Another good thing about learning a foreign language at an early age is that it not only allows learning the language itself but also the cultures and the diversity behind the foreign language one is learning. In this way, the child is being provided with a broader information and knowledge. It enhances the child's intellect and allowing him/her to have more and frequent glimpses of the world. The ultimate effect of this is that earlier dedication and commitment towards learning the foreign language means increased frequency of training thereby making them a lot proficient in using two languages.
Cognitive Effects to the Brain
Learning a foreign language in childhood has been shown to foster classification skills, concept formation, analogical reasoning, visual-spatial skills, creativity, and other cognitive gains (Bialystok 1991). According to Virginia Gonzalez, author of Language and Cognitive Development in Second Language Learning, the effects of bilingualism on cognition are mediated by the proficiency levels in both languages. According to other researchers, "there may be a threshold level of linguistic competence which a bilingual child must attain both in order to avoid cognitive deficits and allow the potentially beneficial aspects of becoming bilingual to influence her cognitive growth." This threshold level is described as the capacity to comprehend the school curriculum and take part in classroom activities in either language (Baker 1993).
Baker further states that children, who have learned to become bilingual, may possess an added cognitive flexibility. Bilingual children have also demonstrated superior story-telling skills, perhaps because they are, as Baker suggests, "less bound by words, more elastic in thinking due to owning two languages" (Baker 1993).
Academic growth in a student's first language is also linked to second-language academic success. Given this connection, and the cognitive advantages of balanced bilingualism, it is clear that the knowledge of two languages has the potential to be much greater than the sum of its parts (http://www.brainconnection.com/topics/?main=fa/cognitive-bilingualism4,2004).
Much has been said about learning a foreign language. It has been argued upon whether it is really beneficial or not. From this standpoint, it has been proven than learning a foreign language will benefit the child - psychologically, socially, emotionally and intellectually.
Any child who knows a foreign language has shown astounding performance in schools and the community. However, there is still one question that is left hanging. What is the best possible time or age to teach a child with a foreign language? Based on the reviewed researches, the earlier the child learns a foreign language, the better. Hence, the infancy years are the best possible time to teach a foreign language.
Teaching an infant with a foreign language may be a hard task. This entails perseverance and strong commitment from the teacher (or the parent). This will also require full understanding, not only of the language itself, but also of the needs of the infant. But this task is beneficial and will prove to be very useful as the infant grown old.
However, it should be noted that the success of teaching an infant to learn a foreign language lies on the hand of the educators. To them lies the secret of successfully teaching the child of their second language. If they know how to treat and teach a child (of barely less that 5 years of age, or even less), then it will not be a difficult task for the child to adopt very well on the said foreign language. It somehow goes like this... An educator, or the parents for that matter, initially teaches the child with the second language... And then the child will do the rest.
So, this all summed up to one thing... learning a foreign language is really beneficial provided that the teacher knows well how to impart on the child the best way to handle having two languages. And it is indeed recommended to an American, or any nationality for that matter, to have a second language at their early age - this could prove an advantageous for them, for they daily living, and for their personal and professional advancement.
Baker, Colin. (1993).Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Bialystok, Ellen. (1991). Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Cambridge University Press.