The way your brain is "organized" determines in part how good you will be at learning a second language. However, it is still unclear how other factors might affect your ability to learn a second language. Things like motivation and dedication to learning can have an impact as well. Nobody should be discouraged from learning a new language in adulthood. If you have the determination and work ethic to become fluent in another language you can definitively do it. While some people have a natural ability to learn a second language that makes it easier to achieve fluency, anyone can make up for not being a "natural" at it by working hard. Just like other activities such as sports, a musical instrument or even being good at cooking or at your job, it takes focus and attention to detail to master anything. Below is a portion of an article by Brianna Yamasaki from the University of Washington on this topic:
"A new brain measure for language aptitude. When we correlated our measures with learning rate, we found that patterns of brain activity that have been linked to linguistic processes predicted how easily people could learn a second language.
Patterns of activity over the right side of the brain predicted upwards of 60 percent of the differences in second language learning across individuals. This finding is consistent with previous research showing that the right half of the brain is more frequently used with a second language.
Our results suggest that the majority of the language learning differences between participants could be explained by the way their brain was organized before they even started learning.
Implications for learning a new languageDoes this mean that if you, like me, don’t have a “quick second language learning” brain you should forget about learning a second language?
Language learning can depend on many factors.
First, it is important to remember that 40 percent of the difference in language learning rate still remains unexplained. Some of this is certainly related to factors like attention and motivation, which are known to be reliable predictors of learning in general, and of second language learning in particular.
Second, we know that people can change their resting-state brain activity. So training may help to shape the brain into a state in which it is more ready to learn. This could be an exciting future research direction.
Second, language learning in adulthood is difficult, but the benefits are large for those who, like myself, are motivated by the desire to communicate with others who do not speak their native tongue."
You can find the full article here: theconversation.com/why-its-hard-for-adults-to-learn-a-second-language-61477
As parents we struggle to take care of the basics things every day at home with the kids: homework, meals, sports, referee for sibling fights, instrument lessons / practice, etc. Once you add a job and keeping the house clean, who has time to think of a second language? Most people likely feel that one language is more than enough with so many other things to take care of on a daily basis. As my brother stated to my parents when he was around 8 years old living in Venezuela and not wanting to learn English - "why do I need to learn English? everyone I know speaks Spanish". Little did he know then that he would end up going to college in the United States and the English my parents "forced" him to learn was very helpful.
We strive to give our children the best education possible and as many tools as we can to help them be successful adults. A second language can be one of the greatest gifts you give your child. Even if you are not able to teach them enough for them to be fluent, the exposure to that language will still provide benefits (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/thinking-about-introducing-a-second-language-to-your-child-here-are-some-reasons-why-you-definitively-should). Parents may think that the tedious work of exposing their child to another language may not be worth it but many do not know that a lot of the benefits gained do not require for the child to become fully fluent. Better attention and focus, improved memory, increased ability to learn another language later in life, improved communication skills, improved brain efficiency, and improved problem-solving skills are among many of the benefits of exposure to a second language.
Besides the obvious advantages of speaking a second language such as being able to communicate with so many other people, becoming more marketable in the job market, potentially making more money and having more opportunities in general, some of the "hidden" benefits mentioned above are just too great to ignore. All of those benefits can have a significant impact in all aspects of your child's life.
No matter how difficult it may be to "squeeze" yet another thing into your already crazy life, introducing a second language is something that you should strongly consider as it is a gift for your child that will keep on giving the rest of their lives.
Learning a new language can be a difficult task as it takes a lot of practice and patience. There are many reasons why you may choose a particular language to learn as an adult. Where you live and the prevalence of a particular language around you may be a reason why you may choose a language or possibly because of the type of work you do or the countries around the world that you may want to visit.
Parents typically choose a language to teach their children based on their heritage although many parents are very proactive these days when it comes to thinking ahead as to which language may benefit their children the most in the future.
If you or your children just want to be able to speak a different language you may want to consider which languages are the easiest to learn for English speakers.
Languages that have similar sentence structure, alphabet and sounds as English are easier for English speakers to learn. Spanish is easy to learn for English speakers as it has only ten blended vowel sounds (diphthong) along with the same English alphabet except for a few letters. Also, once you learn the Spanish vowel sounds, it is not difficult to read Spanish words by making the sound of the consonant (which is mostly the same in English) along with the sound of the vowel. Basically, words are pronounced the way they are written. Additionally, in many areas of the United States there are opportunities to be exposed to Spanish much more readily than any other language making the learning process easier.
Ultimately, the decision as to which language to learn should be based on your particular interests as you will be much more motivated to become proficient in a language that you enjoy. Spanish is a good choice for English speakers in the United States due to the reasons discussed above plus the prevalence of Spanish speakers in many communities around the country. Being fluent in Spanish can open many doors in the job market as well as opportunities to meet and interact with many more people.
Introducing Spanish early to children can have many benefits (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/thinking-about-introducing-a-second-language-to-your-child-here-are-some-reasons-why-you-definitively-should) especially before the age of 5 years old. Therefore, if you have little ones at home and are considering introducing Spanish, do not wait as earlier is better (www.spanishforbabiesandtoddlers.com/blog/earlier-is-better).
Spanish speaking people living in communities where English is the most prevalent language face the challenge to teach their children Spanish. A lot of children in these communities speak only English in school and with their friends so they have limited exposure to Spanish outside their homes. Often they prefer to speak English at home as well as they develop a comfort level with the language due to the daily exposure in school. Many parents do the best they can to make sure their children learn and use Spanish as much as possible but if they do not master the language to a high level it is unlikely that they will speak Spanish at home to their children in the future.
According a Pew Research Center article, Census Bureau projections show that the share of Hispanics who speak only English at home will rise from 26% in 2013 to 34% in 2020. Over this time period, the share who speak Spanish at home will decrease from 73% to 66%. This trend could be due to a number of reasons. Many immigrants prioritize the need for their children to learn and speak English so that they can be successful in school and in the job market. At times this can happen at the expense of maintaining the native language at home. Children strive to fit in with the new culture and prefer to speak the language spoken in the community and by their friends.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center National Survey of Latinos, "Latino adults who are the children of immigrant parents are most likely to be bilingual. Among this group, 50% are bilingual. They found that as of 2012, Latinos with immigrant parents (defined as those born outside the U.S. or those born in Puerto Rico) made up roughly half (48%) of all U.S.-born Hispanics. By comparison, a third (35%) of Hispanic immigrants are bilingual, as are a quarter (23%) of those with U.S.-born parents". This findings appear to indicate that children of Hispanic parents that immigrated to the US are more likely to be bilingual compared to the children of Hispanic parents that were born and raised in the US.
Another interesting finding of this survey is that with each passing generation of immigrants, the percentage of Spanish speakers or bilingual speakers diminishes significantly. With each passing generation the likelihood that parents will make the effort to continue speaking Spanish at home becomes less prevalent. This trend can be partly due to Spanish speaking people marrying non-Spanish speakers which makes it more challenging to have the children learn the language.
Spanish can survive in the US but it will be up to second and third generation parents to take the time and make the effort to pass on this beautiful language to their children. Also, new immigrants will be first generation Spanish speakers that will keep the language alive and well for generations to come.
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For years I have thought about the best way to make sure my children become bilingual in English and Spanish. Since they were little I was determined to do everything possible to achieve that goal. I wondered whether having one parent in the house speaking Spanish would be enough and what other scenarios would be better. Here is a real life experiment from my family and my observations about these different scenarios that provided interesting results.
1) ONE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENT AND ONE ENGLISH SPEAKING PARENT AT HOME
This was the scenario with my family. I am from Venezuela and my wife is from Pennsylvania. My wife is a stay at home parent so while the kids were growing up they spent most of the day listening to her speak English while they would hear me speak Spanish to them a few hours each day after I would get home from work. While they understand most everything I say, they struggle to speak Spanish. My oldest have improved as she started taking more Spanish classes in school so I am hopeful that the other 3 will follow in her foot steps. While I speak Spanish to them consistently they do not have the need to use it as much with an English speaking parent at home. There are numerous things yo can do to encourage your children to speak a language but having a Spanish speaking parent with the children a lot of the day clearly helps.
2) ONE ENGLISH SPEAKING PARENT AND ONE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENT AT HOME
My sister, who is also a native Spanish speaker, is a stay at home Mom and speaks only Spanish to the kids throughout the day. Her husband is from Alabama and speaks mostly English to the kids but he also speaks some Spanish. Their children are able to understand Spanish perfectly and speak fluently. Their pronunciation is very good but not quite as a native speaker as they are exposed to English consistently out of the house which has some effect on using the proper sounds in Spanish.
3)TWO NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENTS IN AN ENGLISH SPEAKING COMMUNITY
My brother's wife is from El Salvador so both speak Spanish at home consistently. Their children attend school so they are exposed to English while not at home. Their children speak Spanish like native speakers and have a rich vocabulary. They have had many hours of listening to Spanish all of their lives due to having both parents speak Spanish consistently at home with good pronunciation.
4) TWO NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKING PARENTS IN A SPANISH SPEAKING COMMUNITY
My other brother lives in Venezuela with his wife and two children. My parents live in the same house so the children have non-stop exposure to Spanish. Out of all of the cousins they speak Spanish with the best vocabulary and pronunciation. The exposure to Spanish in and out of their home consistently has had an impact on their Spanish language skills. They are both learning English in school and progressing well but slowly due to the lack of exposure to English at home.
WHY DOES IT MATTER? I DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE.....
Yes, since you are not able to choose what your home bilingual set up may be, all you can do is take steps to get the most out of whichever situation you have. Families that have a set up where there is a lot of Spanish spoken at home may be able to focus on higher level Spanish skills for their children such as reading at higher levels and maybe learning grammar and writing (age appropriate).
Those families that have more limited or no exposure to the language at home, such as in homes with no Spanish speaking parents, can concentrate in more basic skills such as learning the proper vowel sounds and pronunciation along with expanding their vocabulary as much as possible. If Spanish is not spoken at home much throughout the day, videos, CDs, movies and games in Spanish can provide more exposure.
This real life experiment shows that the more exposure the better so do you best to get as much Spanish as you can into your child's daily life.
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