Sarah Scully with her four-year-old Amelia Scully-Hatley who will take part in the New Leaf Centre French program this year.
Sarah Scully with her four-year-old Amelia Scully-Hatley who will take part in the New Leaf Centre French program this year. Kari Bourne

Kids turn over new language leaf

CHILDREN at New Leaf Early Learning Centre will say "bonjour" to a new subject from the end of this month.

New Leaf Centre director Carolyn Watson said the Alpha Types French Program would be integrated into the centre to offer students more opportunities to broaden their learning experience.

"There are many advantages to speaking a second language and research shows that children are more susceptible to learning a new language at a young age," Mrs Watson said.

She said the centre already had offered specialist lessons in other areas such as music and sport, and adding a language program was a natural progression.

"We are always looking at ways of improving the quality of learning opportunities," she said.

"The idea was put to parents by requesting expressions of interest and we received a lot of positive feedback, particularly for parents with babies and toddlers.

"It is great that we can offer children the opportunity to become bilingual before they are even speaking their first language fluently."

The director said the play-based program, designed for children from 18 months to five years, used a range of activities to meet the needs of all children.

She said French had been chosen because it was on the curriculum at Sunshine Coast Grammar, with which the centre has a strong affiliation.

University of the Sunshine Coast Associate Professor Michael Nagel said research showed learning a language at a young age was highly beneficial.

"The earlier a second language is learnt, the better," he said.

He said benefits included helping children with their native language and helping them gain a better understanding of grammar structures.

Prof Nagel said that in Australia, second languages usually were not introduced until Year 6 or 7, making them more difficult to learn.

"Older people can still learn languages but it's often harder and takes a lot longer," he said.

"Those who start younger speak it faster and with greater proficiency."

Prof Nagel also said learning a language at a younger age was more exciting.

"When you're 18 months or two years, learning has a different context: all learning at that age is exciting," he said.

"By the time we are teenagers, we have other interests and are less likely to see the relevance of learning a foreign language."

The centre will offer the French course weekly from January 27.

For more information, call 5453 7077.