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A Brief Glance into the Significance of Immersing Children into a Multilingual Environment


The exposure of children to various languages as early on as possible is a viable and important educational tool.

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									                                                        An interesting point that this hypothesis makes
A Brief Glance into                                     is the argument for introducing second, third,
                                                        and subsequent languages to children at a
the Significance of                                     younger age. A large majority of adults who
                                                        learn a new language at an older age still retain
Immersing Children                                      an accent from their mother tongue. This is due
                                                        to the fact that the ‘imprint’ of their first
into a                                                  language has already been set in their brain.
                                                        However, if they are exposed to the second
                                                        language as children, their brain is able to
                                                        acquire the language, as it would sound being
The “Critical Period Hypothesis” was published          spoken by a native speaker. In simple terms, the
in 1967, based on studies and research carried          connection of brain to tongue, and the signals
out by Eric H. Lenneberg. This hypothesis               that the brain delivers to the tongue to
continues to be debated by his predecessors.            maneuver in order to speak a certain language
Lenneberg’s hypothesis is based on the                  are very specific steps that control the way that
assumption that language can be learnt readily          words sound. Hence, a developing brain, which
from the age of two years until puberty. He             can be compared to a sponge, will be able to
claimed that at puberty the brain loses its             learn a lot of steps and signals to deliver
plasticity due to lateralization, or the process by     different languages; whereas a fully developed
which the two sides of the brain each develop           brain will only have a guideline of
specialized functions. Hence, he believed that          predetermined steps that is programmed to
after lateralization, which is usually complete at      that of the mother tongue.
puberty, language acquisition becomes more
                                                        Many people argue that it would be confusing
                                                        for a child to learn too many languages at one
This hypothesis is of noteworthy consideration,         time, as they fear that the child will be
especially in a country such as Malaysia, which         confused. However, in a country like Malaysia
has recently enforced the necessity of                  that is multicultural it is not uncommon for
promoting the English language in schools.              most people to be multilingual as they are
Whether the details of Lenneberg’s hypothesis           exposed to different languages. The Lenneberg
are justified or not is a question that is left to be   hypothesis supports the fact that if the brain
debated by psychologists and language                   extracts different steps to instruct the tongue to
specialists. Nonetheless, it is a well-known fact       deliver different languages, then this also
that children do pick up languages more easily          means that the brain has the ability to know
than adults do. Likewise, children have a               and specify which steps are utilized for which
phenomenal ability to learn and retain words            language. This ensures that the child will not be
and phrases that they encounter not only                confused, as the human brain has the
through formal education, but also from what            propensity to differentiate and disseminate
they encounter on television and the media.             various languages.
The exposure of children to various languages
as early on as possible is a viable and important
educational tool. If not for the Lenneberg
theory, then for the simple reason that it is
always a benefit to be multilingual in a world
where everyone speaks a different language.

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