It’s not just the free-market myth that’s crumbling these days: Anne Sodermann, Michigan State University professor emeritus of Family and Child, spent some hundred hours in a bilingual Mandarin-English Kindergarten in Bejing. In a recent study (Powerpoint-presentation here), watching 3 to 6 year old children from 16 nationalities, she came to a surprising conclusion: “There’s a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning(another) language is extremely easy for them – that they are like sponges – and that is just not true. Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults,” says Sodermann.
Children who withdraw or “act out” might do so precisely because of the language barrier – they just can’t understand their peers. Sodermann made another observation: “In early childhood, we know from previous research that girls are more verbal and more social than boys, generally speaking, but what we found in this study is that girls had a tougher time with social adjustment in the classroom”.