Teaching English early gives kids a bilingual edge, proponents say
Language development is a major milestone for any child, and a growing number of children in Denmark are now tackling not only one, but two languages as early as kindergarten.
The Ministry of Children and Education reports that since gaining permission to begin early English education in 2010, 45 public schools have added it to their curriculums. Several other municipalities say they will allow their schools to start teaching English to kindergarten-age children next fall, and many of the country’s private and independent schools have taught students English from their very first school day for the past five years.
Research suggests that when very young children learn a second language, it increases listening ability, memory, creativity and critical thinking.
Michael Graugaard, the headmaster of Gummerup School, agrees. His school has been teaching English in kindergarten for the past five years.
"Students that get a head start in English have more linguistic awareness, and that helps them become better readers," Graugaard told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
The education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), is not completely onboard with the plan. She prefers the traditional method of having students wait and start English a bit later.
“English education works fine when it is started in the third grade,” she told Jyllands-Posten. “If a school wants to start earlier, that is up to them, but we do not want to make it compulsory.”
The former education minister, Troels Lund Poulsen (Venstre), had discussed the idea of implementing English in public schools from the first grade, but Antorini said she had no intention of following through on that plan.
She said schools should focus more on the core subjects like Danish and mathematics.
Niels Egelund, a professor at Aarhus University and an expert in the Danish school system, disagreed with Antorini. He said that children are ready to learn a foreign language as early as age six.
“It is a bit negative to suggest that children should wait until the third grade,” he said. “By the end of kindergarten, children have already learned many English words from video games and films.”
Egelund believes if children start to absorb a language from an early age, it will be easier for them to learn and will help them develop critical-thinking skills. He added, however, that that teaching very young students requires a different approach and special materials.
“It is absurd to think that one can just take old material from upper grades and use it in kindergarten. They need plenty of songs, games and rhymes.”