I cannot say that I am an expert, but this topic is close to me. My first education is an elementary school teacher, specialization is English.
You can begin to teach the language from the cradle, as it happens in bilingual families. And the result is magnificent – a child speaks two languages as if they were native ones. But this, of course, is an exceptional option. For myself, I chose "not to harm" as the most important principle, that is:
- Do not torture a child and do not cause a negative in relation to the language;
- Do not disturb the psyche and the development of speech in the native language.
My son is 1 year and 9 months old now, so the development of speech is an important topic for us. Until recently, we did not come into contact with English. When I was convinced that my son was well-developed, sociable, cheerful and already speaking with word combinations in his native language, I allowed myself to add cartoons and songs in English to our "diet". All he still takes this very positively! This is from personal experience.
If we return to the general, then, in addition to the principle of "not to harm", I would advise to parents to find the opportunity for a child to come into contact with the language approximately the way it happens to the native one, that is, passively and easily at first. Up to 6-8 years, I would recommend only counters, songs, cartoons and games with parents or in language clubs. It is also important to remember that the pronunciation in these audio and video should be at the high level. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to correct the memorized! Naturally, there can be no question of any letter and grammar.
When can you begin to teach a child the language consciously, let it be fun, but nevertheless systematically and with some analytical methods? It is an individual question. There are children more plodding and less plodding, someone starts talking in a year and a half, and someone is terse in three. There are many nuances, and first of all, parents themselves need to carefully assess what their child is now ready for.
Thus, it is worthwhile to teach a child English from an infant age if:
- You live or are going to live in an English-speaking country, and a child simply needs to know the language to communicate with others;
- At home, someone constantly speaks English: one of the parents, a grandmother, a nanny. In this case, a child will also be aware of why he or she needs to study the tongue – to talk with this person;
- You can unobtrusively and interestingly present knowledge to a child without harm to his or her native language or find a tutor who can do it;
Theory #2. A Child Should Be Taught English Not Earlier Than in 7 Years
Adherents of this opinion believe that foreign languages need to be taught at a conscious age, and one does not have to torment a child with incomprehensible words. Supporters of studying from the age of 7 agree that a child up to 5-6 years old easily learns a language that constantly hears, that is, the native one. If a child is not in an English-speaking country or his or her parents do not speak English as often as their native tongue, then a foreign language cannot be assimilated "by itself", so it makes no sense to teach it earlier than in 7-8 years.
Advantages of this approach:
- A child is getting used to learning
At the age of 7 and older, a child is already getting used to the regime, because he or she goes to school. It is thus easier for them to learn, they get used to sitting in one place, listening attentively, et c.
- A child already knows his or her native language well
Children of school age already fluent in their native language. For example, they know common greeting phrases, introduce themselves, thank for a gift or favor, and generally can keep a simplest conversation up. Their native language vocabulary is already broad enough, so when English words with identical meaning appear to them, they can grasp them easily.
- A child, as a rule, formed the pronunciation
By the age of 7, a child will already have the pronunciation of sounds of his or her native language, so they will not confuse them with English sounds. Moreover, at this age, children still have good phonemic abilities, so they can quickly learn how to correctly pronounce sounds of foreign speech.
- Children can be commanded or tricked into learning
They may have their own inclinations so the first approach might be a bit undemocratic. Better to invent some reward system: if they learn for some time(or some more words) – buy them a candy. Tap them on the head, whatever – you know best how to encourage your child. The learning process and the reward itself might actually be the same: try watching cartoons with English soundtrack, play videogames and read short stories for children. Find something that will entice your child, and you do not have to drag them to the next English class.
- There are many courses for children
Finding courses for children from 7 years will be quite simple: they are already accustomed to concentrating on the subject under study, again, a child has interests, a teacher can build lessons based on them. With children under 7, it is a little more difficult: attracting and retaining attention of a small child is not easy, it is even more difficult to make it consciously. It is very difficult to find the right approach to teaching a baby, not every teacher can do it, so you can spend a lot of time looking for a "right" teacher.
- Children speak out their mind
As it was previously stated? Children have no fear of making mistake, so there’s no such thing as language barrier for them. Although it’s best to start learning language as early as possible, 7 to 8 years are still good to get use of child’s natural straightforwardness.
We will consider shortcomings of this approach and much more in the next part of this article.