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How we learn languages


Why children under 12 learn faster

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In a number of German-speaking cantons there are campaigns to stop the teaching of two foreign languages in primary schools.

The argument is that it is too exacting for the children and that it would be better to teach the second foreign language in secondary school.

Professor Martin Meyer from the department of psychology at the University of Zurich, whose special area of expertise is mapping the neural mechanisms of speech perception and production, insists that the younger children are, the easier they can learn languages.

He says the brain is less adept at learning new languages between the ages of 12 and 20, so it would be a mistake to delay the teaching of a second language until secondary school.

In most German-speaking cantons, children learn English from the third grade and French from the fifth grade. The decision to introduce English before French is unpopular in French-speaking cantons, which consider it a threat to national unity.

In French-speaking cantons, children start to learn German before English.