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Should we teach languages in elementary school?

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Should we teach languages in elementary schools? I recently got a note from a mother whose daughter's school had a program of teaching Chinese and Spanish to grade schoolers. Will it result in linguistic confusion, she asked? It's a good question, but it's not a worry. Children under the age of 10 are absolutely hardwired to learn languages. In many other countries they learn three or four, often at the same time -- with no ill effects. Our tradition in America, even with all the languages spoken here, has been not to start language study until high school -- and our kids are poorer for it. Now, though, we're recognizing what a joyous thing language learning is for children, and early language programs are gaining momentum. The language profession calls them FLES programs, Foreign Language in the Elementary School. The theoretical underpinning for FLES comes from studies of the brain. Researchers who have seen the brain in action, say it's most receptive to foreign language before the age of ten, after which receptivity starts to decline. If you wait until middle or high school to start, you have to work harder to learn a language, because the brain doesn't have the plasticity it had in childhood. There's also a good deal of value in exposing children to the sounds and rhythms of other tongues. Part of learning languages is getting past the notion that English is the "right" or only way to talk and other languages are "funny." Children who take FLES don't have the inhibitions that teenagers often have when they start a language. Kids love to imitate new sounds -- and they're good at it. So if you start a language before the age of ten, chances are improved that you’ll speak it later without a noticeable accent. There's also the benefit that FLES can open children's minds to other cultures, since culture goes along with language study, especially in the early grades where songs, games, and the arts are part of class. So what else can you expect of a FLES program? Above all, if a student sticks with it, the long-term gain is higher proficiency in the language. We know that students who started early achieve higher scores on Advanced Placement tests in language than those who started in their teens. There's also been a great deal of study about what produces high achievement in languages. You may be surprised to hear that it isn't high IQ, musical aptitude, ability in math or chess -- or most of the other things you might try to correlate with success. It really boils down to two things: time on task and motivation. Both flow from starting a foreign language early. If our kids start young and pursue a language through college, they'll have enough time on task. And because it's fun in elementary school, they're likely to look forward to studying languages later. They'll be more motivated. And emerging research shows that students who started languages early did better than those who didn't on tests in Reading, Language Arts, Social Studies and Math. So there are benefits beyond learning the language itself. But even if all that's true, isn't the grade school day already full? How can we squeeze in another subject, even if it's worthwhile? Part of the answer is that FLES teachers reinforce other subjects, while teaching the language. We see that again and again. When a FLES teacher works on days of the week, weather, maps, shopping, and other real-life topics in the language class, she or he is reviewing what is taught by other teachers about numbers, dates, temperature, colors, and money. When teaching map reading skills, the language teacher reinforces social studies work on geography. In short, FLES can be integrated into the curriculum, making the rest of a child's learning stronger. So, should we teach foreign languages in the elementary school? The answer is unequivocally: YES!

Video Details

Duration: 5 minutes and 21 seconds
Country: Spain
Language: English
Producer: Manuel Pérez Gutiérrez
Director: Manuel Pérez Gutiérrez
Views: 244
Posted by: mapegu on Oct 15, 2008

LISTENING 3 - Idioma extranjero (inglés) y su didáctica

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