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When Should Kids Start Learning English?

October 24, 2017 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Most people our age didn’t start English until quite late.

I didn’t start French until secondary school when I was 11 years old.

And I didn’t start Japanese until I was 23.

But a lot of people think that’s far, far too late. People should start as kids — the younger the better, they say. Indeed, since I came to Japan English has gone from starting at secondary school to starting years earlier in primary school. And the private kids-English industry is massive.

But is it really helpful?

Honestly, that’s a hard question to answer.

If we’re only considering English, there is no **disadvantage** to starting earlier. In terms of school, the only real drawback is that students lose time for other things.

But at the same time…

If you look at research that’s been done in schools of all kinds, results really are quite disappointing.

Often it doesn’t make much difference

Simply put, most of the time starting earlier doesn’t make much difference. For example, several years ago I went to visit an immersion school in Japan. This is a school where all subjects are taught in English. And yes, the students there were better than the average Japanese student… but not by much. I mean, it’s not like there were fantastically good at English. They were OK… but just OK. Certainly not enough to justify the time and expense spent on English.

Then at the same time, I’ve known people who’ve started English in their late 20 and 30s and reached a really, really high level. One lady I know started in her early 40s and now she’s indistinguishable from a British person.

What we should really be concentrating on

If you ask me, more important is exposing kids to the CULTURE.

Getting them used to the fact that there are other languages and cultures in the world than their own. And building that flexibility from an early stage.

Certainly, this is what I focus on with my kids.

(I don’t even bother to speak to my kids in English most of the time — we’ve chosen Japanese as the language of our household, and that’s fine.)

You have no excuses

Sadly for you, that means you’ve got no excuses.

As I talk about in this video:

You’re never too old.


Julian Northbrook

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