Il'est jamais trop tard...“It’s never too late… But it is never to early either!” That was the subject of a conference that took place in Namur (BE) at the Université du Troisième Age on 12 March 2014. Professor Manfred Peters, a sociolinguist from the department of German Studies at the University of Namur and president of the commission on “early language acquisition” of Lions Club International, told about the advantages of early multilingual upbringing and presented several bilingual education programmes.

The teaching programme most tried out in Belgium is called CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning): this is how all the forms of instruction are called that integrate the teaching of a second or foreign language in non-language classes, such as history, biology or mathematics.

The online platform TIBEM (Tweetaligheid in Beweging – Bilinguisme en Mouvement) gives information about this immersion-teaching method, where especially the German-speaking Community in Belgium provides a best-practice, as French is taught as a mother tongue starting at elementary school level. But also “Eveil aux Langues”, an initiative of the French Community in Belgium, is a distinguished programme having the objective to create awareness for multilingualism among small children in particular. With audio-CDs also parents who are not bilingual themselves, can familiarise their children with bilingual and multicultural surroundings.

Professor Peters spoke about the latest (neuro-) scientific findings on bilingualism and multilingualism. The part of the brain responsible for attention and logic of people who speak a number of languages is more developed. Moreover, multilingualism is stimulating the cognitive development of children.

So why can you not start early enough with learning languages? An American study has proven that already before birth a baby is sensitive to bilingual resonance. If a foreign language is being learnt at a very early stage, it will be located in the same part of the brain as the mother tongue, namely in the Broca’s area. Bilingual children Synapsenbildungendevelop this area in a twofold way. Children who learn a foreign language later use another part of the brain for the second language, which is adjacent to that of the mother tongue. Because the synapses develop predominantly in the first three years of your life, and because this process is concluded during puberty at the latest, this means that early language acquisition is very important. This is also the reason why it is easier for children to learn languages. In this context Peters referred to the American bestseller “Tout se joue avant six ans”, by Dr Fitzhugh Dodson.

Julia Marx from language diversity visited the conference in Namur and gave professor Manfred Peters information materials from our campaign that he will use in other presentations in Belgium, such as e.g. in Eupen. It was also possible to arrange a meeting with Jeroen Darquennes, also professor of German Studies at the University of Namur, who does research into the specialist field of “language policy situation of minorities”. Last but not least both of them became multipliers for our video competition MiLaS!

Jeroen DarquennesManfred Peters