Northern Ireland news

From four-year-old to 90, age is no barrier to learning a second language

South Eastern Regional College’s youngest and oldest language students are Alec Thompson (4) and David McShane (90)

FROM four-year-old to 90, age is no barrier to learning a second language.

That's according to South Eastern Regional College (SERC), which says it is never too late, or early, to pick up a new language.

The college's language students' range in age from Alec Thompson (4), a pupil at Bangor Central Integrated Primary School, to David McShane (90) from Helen's Bay - both of whom are enjoying learning French.

Mr McShane has progressed from basic French to an advanced level speaker (level 4) after attending the college for several years.

"A second language is a social skill and I have found it does help when you get older," he said.

"If you don't use it, you can quickly lose the vocabulary and the feel for the language.

"I think it is so important for children to learn a second language from a young age and the younger they start, the better."

Alec's mother, Olivia said her son and his sister Alana (6) are enjoying "getting an introduction to another language at an early age".

"It really opens up their world as they get to know there are other countries and other languages beyond what they know at home," she said.

"They particularly enjoy sharing what they are learning with their grandparents each week such as numbers, colours and everyday objects."

Tessa Barrett from the SERC said a "second language is a wonderful skill to have and can bring great enjoyment to one's life, whether you choose to learn for pleasure or want to become fluent".

"I am passionate about languages and strongly feel that starting to learn a second one from a very young age helps children to become confident in all aspects of their education," she said.

"I have taught languages to adults for 30 years and have seen hundreds of students who started with no knowledge, progress to become completely fluent through attending our language classes at SERC."

She also said "young children are like sponges when it comes to learning new things".

"Starting early means they are less conscientious about how they sound when they speak a new language and just get on with the new words and sounds," she added.

"Likewise, when we get older, there is a strong body of evidence that supports keeping your brain active.

"Essentially it is a muscle that needs exercise, and learning a language is one way to help keep it in tip-top condition."

SERC offer a choice of seven languages - French, Spanish, German, Italian, Irish, Japanese and Arabic – with some courses from beginner through to advanced level and some after-school courses for primary school children.

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