We all know the advantages of learning a language for little ones: better memory function, better multi-tasking and most importantly, access to jobs on a more global market in the future. We also know that their brains are like sponges, hard-wired to pick up languages, be it their own or somebody else’s.
However, studies show that after the age of eleven, the parts of the brain responsible for language acquisition stop growing so rapidly and learning becomes more challenging. So if you want your children to really develop their linguistic skills – beyond a limited ability to order a pain au chocolat in Paris or a beef bratwurst in Berlin (or maybe that’s just us!) – it makes sense to expose them to foreign lingos early. And here’s where Dubai offers more possibilities than most places in the world. With Arabic classes compulsory in kindergarten and a melting pot of nationalities, it’s one of the best places to help your child pick up a second (or even third) language. We take a look at four they could be learning...
One of Dubai’s biggest draws for expats is the opportunity it affords their children; one of which is the chance to become fluent in the local language. It’s estimated there are around 300 million Arabic speakers worldwide and the British Council’s Languages for the Future report identified it as the second most vital language to the UK over the next 20 years. Previously, some felt the way Arabic was taught here was a little old fashioned in some schools. Luckily, in those places, there are signs the tide is turning with more effort and resources going into recruiting teachers whose methods extend beyond writing reams of text onto the blackboard and giving instructions. It’s not easy. Children have to learn an entirely new alphabet and master writing from right to left. The US Foreign Service Institute estimates speakers need 2,200 classroom hours to become proficient. That’s a whole lot of lesson time.
With 1.2 billion speakers, Mandarin, the official language of China, is the most widely spoken in the world. Demand for Mandarin speakers is only going to grow, as China nudges America off the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP. It’s a tricky dialect to master as there are tens of thousands of Chinese characters to be learnt. The intonation and the way you say the word or character can completely change its meaning, too. Basically, the earlier you start, the better.
“The language of love” is the one most parents grew up learning at school and it’s still the most popular language in the UK at GCSE or A-Level. But because France’s population is a relatively petite 68 million and its international influence is waning, some parents worry that it’s outlived its usefulness. However, we think it’s still worth polishing up your vocabulaire, because it’s so widely spoken in the developing African nations that Forbes magazine reckons there could be 750 million French-speakers in the world by 2050. French is probably one of the easiest languages to get to grips with, not least because so many of its words have infiltrated our day-to-day language. But even with intense study, you can still expect your pronunciation to be all over the place and be prepared for the fact that in Paris, no matter how good your accent is, they’ll always answer you in English.
As the largest economy in the EU, Germany is considered an economic powerhouse, so it’s definitely worth trying to get to grips with its mother tongue. And with Brexit marginalising Britain’s impact on the world stage, German influence is set to grow. For parents thinking ahead to those far off days when little ones fly the nest and head to university, Germany is the most popular country in the EU for international students, possibly because they abolished tuition fees in 2014 (although a small number of institutions continue to charge). Although it has less of a language crossover (sorry Uber), German is akin to English (both are Germanic languages after all), which means native English speakers should find German the easiest of the languages we surveyed to pick up. Don’t be put off by the lack of German courses on offer here in the UAE, and just say guten tag to a new lingo that will serve your kids well.