Learning a foreign language: the earlier the better?
When moving abroad with your family, as a parent you are likely to experience moments of envy when you notice the ease and speed with which your children pick up words and complex structures in the local language, while you still struggle to order a drink in a restaurant.
However, while young children may acquire language faster than adults, research has shown that an early starting age of foreign language instruction in school is not necessarily the key determinant and certainly not the only factor influencing language competence.
Recent studies suggest that other factors such as quality and intensity of instruction or native-speaker input might be more important than the question of when the language learning began.
The immersion method: the more opportunities to learn, the better
At SIS Swiss International School, teaching follows the immersion method with half of the lessons being taught by a native speaker of English, the other half by a native speaker of German. Since all interaction takes place in the official school languages, children acquire both German and English in a natural way.
According to Simone Pfenninger, Assistant Professor of Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics at the University of Salzburg, studies have shown intensive exposure to the foreign language and high-quality input by native speakers as provided by SIS to be more beneficial to students than an early starting age.
Other research suggests that immersion in a foreign language may also have advantageous effects on the development of other cognitive skills, self-confidence and learner autonomy.