Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (17.2.2017) published an article where neuropsychologists speak out on language education.
Even neuropsychologists agree that the best results of foreign language learning occur when studying begins at an early age. With the new Finnish National Curriculum, foreign language learning in elementary school starts at the age of 9, and second foreign language is started at the age of 12. However, this is not the best time for foreign language learning – it should start much earlier.
Making use of the sensitive period
The neuropsychological perspective in the language discussion is new, but even neuropsychologists believe that small children go through a sensitive period when they are highly receptive to new skills. During this sensitive period, children can learn for example new languages easily. Of course one can study new languages throughout life, but studies have shown that small children learn languages easier than adults and youngsters. Learning new languages at an early age has a positive effect on the brain development, making overall learning much easier.
At the moment, in Finland, youngsters begin learning a second foreign language when they are in puberty. This is also when they get easily embarrassed and are not necessary so motivated. The lack of motivation at this age has therefore been raised as a problem in the foreign language education. Young people do not necessary care for the benefits of foreign language learning.
Benefits throughout life
According to researchers, foreign language learning and multilingualism can be beneficial even at an old age. Multilingualism, achieved at an early age, can for example postpone memory disorders related to old age. Thus multilingualism does not benefit only school success and work life, but it also has long-lasting health benefits.
The Minister of Education and Culture, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, has announced a pilot next autumn, where foreign language learning will start at the first grade or already at kindergarten. Researchers point out that there are no real arguments for the fact that foreign language learning starts so late in Finland. For brain development, it would be desirable if foreign language learning started already in kindergarten in a playful way.