Giving weight to the old adage ‘the younger the better’ to learn a new language, research from the University of Tasmania’s College of Arts, Law and Education has confirmed the benefits of teaching a second language to pre-school aged children.
The recently published study found that a Vietnamese language program for pre-schoolers stimulated interest in the Vietnamese culture as well as improved children’s linguistic, literacy and numeracy skills.
The study looked at 35 children at a long day childcare centre in northern Tasmania and involved 20 half-hour lessons over a period of ten weeks, as well as interviews with staff and parents.
Paper lead Dr Vinh To said the study found the three to five-year-old children who learned Vietnamese to have increased their international mindedness.
“Parents told us that in many cases the children started using Vietnamese words around their home, sang Vietnamese songs, enjoyed reading Vietnamese-English books as part of the home reading program and took great pride in talking about what they learnt in the Vietnamese class,” Dr To said.
“The lessons provoked interest and curiosity in language learning and broadened the children’s perspective about the world.”
The program focused on a range of topics including greetings, morning activities, colours, numbers, action words, toys, foods, animals, cultural symbols, reading and singing.
The pilot project was one of the first to introduce a second language to preschool students in Tasmania.
“Vietnamese as a foreign language was never offered in the Tasmanian context before this study, and for many children participating in the program it was the first time for them to engage with a different language and culture,” Dr To said.
Dr To said the study was critically important in a Tasmanian context to understand educators and parents’ voices, to help inform languages education practices and policies.
“The project has enabled children to explore the world more fully to become ‘confident and involved learners’ and ‘effective communicators,’” she said.
“In the long term speaking at least two languages will eventually offer job seekers more opportunities in competitive markets.”
While the study focused on one childcare centre, Dr To said the broader response to the study had been encouraging.
“The feedback and findings were extremely positive,” she said.
“And while we were only able to focus on one centre for the purpose of the study, it was a delightful surprise to receive a lot of interest from different childcare centres to participate in our program.”
The study was carried out by Dr Vinh To, Professor Karen Swabey and Dr Andy Bown (University of Tasmania) and Dr Bao Thai ( Australian National University).
Image L-R: Dr Bao Thai, Dr Vinh To and Mr Tai Huynh (Vietnamese language teacher)