From September this year, the teaching of a foreign language to primary school children in state schools across the country has become compulsory. The move was influenced by growing concerns over the number of students who are not choosing a language for their GCSE and A-level exams. It was reported that between 1996 and 2012, entries for A-level French and German fell by more than half and for GCSE’s, between 2001 and 2010, the drop was 40%.
We are yet to see if the teaching of languages to primary school children will have any effect on these disheartening figures. Recent research, however, has shown that there are many benefits when it comes to teaching young children a second language.
We all know that classrooms can at times be very noisy places which can have a detrimental effect on some children when it comes to learning. A new study at a Cambridge primary school has shown that bilingual children coped better with interruptions whilst listening to recorded statements.
Some 40 children, aged 7 to 12, were asked to listen to simple recorded sentences which were interrupted by a male and female voice intermittently. The statements were about one animal doing something bad to another and the children were asked to identify the ‘bad animal’ in each recording. Half the children in the group spoke English while the other half spoke English plus another language.
The findings showed that the bilingual children were better at comprehending the statements that were interrupted, with 63% achieving the right answers. The study also showed that the children who spoke two languages improved at this task with age as opposed to the children who just spoke one language. Dr. Roberto Filippi, co-author of the study, stressed the importance of children being able to deal with noise and also improving at this ability as they get older: “The observation that the ability to control interference improves with age, but only within the bilingual group is a remarkable finding”.
Research has already shown that learning a second language during childhood has a positive influence on cognitive development but the results from this latest study are particularly significant as it has shown that bilingual children can successfully deal with the negative impact of noise which is a growing problem in most schools across the country and can seriously impede the learning process as Dr. Filipi states: “… primary schools are remarkably noisy; therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important”.