How Language Learning Affects A Child’s Brain

Activities Beyond the Classroom manages and funds a variety of after-school programs throughout Cincinnati Public Schools. One of these—in partnership with the Live A Language Foundation—is an initiative to teach Mandarin Chinese to CPS students as young as Kindergarten. The program is currently at two schools, and because of the wide range of benefits for children learning a second language, the hope is to secure additional funding that will allow us to expand the program even further. You can see a video of the program in action (and trust us when we say there are fewer things cuter than elementary-aged children singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes in Mandarin Chinese.)

Key Factors That Impact Language Learning

Psycholinguists have been studying how the human brain reacts to language learning for many years. Researchers have found that there are sensitive periods of brain development that are optimal for learning a second language. Key factors that impact the way in which the brain responds to an auditory stimulus such as a foreign language include the quality of inputs as well as the techniques used to teach the second language.

Source: Participate f/k/a VIF International Learning (Click to Enlarge)

During the Early Learning Mandarin Language Adventure students were taught by native-speaking instructors. Gini Browsch, President of Live A Language Foundation, stressed the importance of utilizing immersive language learning taught by instructors whom are native speakers: “Especially for tonal languages like Mandarin,” indicated Browsch, “this helps students learn proper tone and inflection.”  The instructors used hand gestures (similar to those used by a music teacher) to help teach the young students to properly speak Mandarin Chinese.

Research shows that the brain reacts to a foreign language similarly to how it reacts to hearing a new song. The sound is received in the Auditory Cortex and sent to the Wernicke’s Area for processing. The Broca’s Area of the brain is responsible for the formation of speech sending signals to the Motor Cortex, which controls the lips and mouth.  The more often a child hears the foreign language inputs, the faster the brain is able to respond to the stimuli.  (White, 2013)

The Best Time To Teach A Language To A Child

According to Joseph Dick, the Director of the Second Language Learning Institute of Canada, the optimum time for children to learn a foreign language is during the Cognitive Operational Stage, which typically occurs between the ages of 7 to 11 years old. (Dick, 2009)

Dick attributes the ease of language learning to four key factors that occur during this time frame.

Language Learning Increases the Brain’s Capacity For Learning

Further research shows that the brains of people who are bilingual or multilingual are better at switching between tasks than the brains of people who only speak one language. This has been attributed to the brain’s need to inhibit one language while utilizing another. In other words, by studying and learning another language, you are training your brain to function at a higher level, increasing your capacity for learning other subjects. (Marian, 2012)

How Activities Beyond The Classroom is Making An Impact

Helping students who attend Cincinnati Public Schools become lifelong learners is critical to the goals of Activities Beyond The Classroom. We are proud to be a fiscal sponsor for Live-A-Language, allowing them to offer programming such as the Early Learning Mandarin Chinese Adventure. “We would not be able to [teach Mandarin to elementary school students] without funding from Activities Beyond The Classroom. We used their financial support to pay for instructors and to purchase software subscriptions,” added Browsch.

Activities Beyond The Classroom is always looking to expand program offerings to include activities that are enhancing the lives of CPS students. If you would like to learn more about partnership opportunities please contact Rachel Stallings, Program Director at (513) 281-9870.