The Critical Period: from a future SLP’s point of view
By: Lauren Vernikov
Why do we tutor English? It is the native language of many children that comes into our office. It is spoken by at least one person in every household of our community. Yet, we have children as young as three years old being tutored in their na
tive language. We do this because of something called the Critical Period for language acquisition. Until the age 5, the brain is neurologically developing at an extremely fast rate and during this time, children develop most of their receptive and expressive language: the language they understand and speak with. This, and sometimes through puberty ages, is what we call the critical period. From the age of 5 until puberty, language acquisition becomes increasingly more difficult but is still significantly easier than after a child reaches puberty age.
The reason why we tutor English to kids as early as the age of three is to use their minds’ flexibility during the “critical” time to help them become amazing English speakers, readers, and writers. During this time, we teach them new words, different uses of these words, basic sentence structure, and how to read and write.
If reflecting upon one of my students, she came to work with me at THINK&Co. at the age of 4, barely knowing her full alphabet or phonetic sounds. A year has passed and we are now working on 3 and 4 letter words, wrapped up in crossword and word search puzzles, without a word bank! Having the opportunity, as an educator, to work with a student while still in their critical period is amazing, for me as her tutor, for her as the student, and for her parents, who get to revel in their child’s progress week to week. Through tapping into the variety of exercises available to “Critical Period” learners, not only did her English language get better, but she has learned to read advanced words, do addition and subtraction word problems, and how to read, write, and identify all of her shapes and colors like the back of her hand. Because she is thriving in her critical period, she will continue to thrive not only in English and Russian, but also in Hebrew! She has just started kindergarten and has entered having a reserve of knowledge, which is just another benefit of beginning teaching children at an early age.
In her new kindergarten, she is learning Hebrew, her now third language. I am confident in the fact that she will succeed in learning this language because she will be speaking it for at least 6-8 years before she reaches puberty, and the end of her critical period. She will not have an accent in either of the languages, which is another factor of learning a language within the critical period. She will understand all the nuances each language has and know how to use them in social and educational contexts.
Every parents should encourage their children to learn new languages and skills by using efficient methods like the ones we use at THINK&Co., such as using interactive education play.
Learning happens in all stages of life but because learning language is easier to do during the critical period, it is best to learn as much as possible during this time. Encourage your children to continue to explore their environments with play and maybe even learn a new language. Try to learn a language with them! You will be surprised when your 4-year-old picks up Spanish much faster than you do!