Thursday, August 25, 2005

Learning A Foreign Language The Common-Sense Way

With the exception of a parent or tutor, this must certainly be the best method for English-speaking children to learn foreign languages:(emphais added)
Sandra Rosado is big on class participation. So when her fourth-graders had a hard time keeping quiet until it was their turn to answer, she didn't mind.

Until a few of them spoke in English.

"No ingles!" Rosado reminded her Spanish class at Perkins Elementary.

No problem. At ages 9 and 10, the children spoke Spanish for the rest of the class, eagerly naming Central American capitals and vocabulary words from potatoes to pineapples.

"The goal is to create a love for language while they're young, while they're still risk takers in class," Rosado said. "Little by little, we give them the confidence."

Starting little is getting big in languages. Long considered a subject for college or high school, foreign language is becoming more popular in elementary schools, experts say.

Parents and teachers are often fueling this expansion in their schools, backed by research that shows young children have great capacity for learning languages. But the drive also comes out of a sense of national necessity, as big gaps in language skills have threatened the country's security and commercial competitiveness.

"There's a perception in this country that English is fine, English is enough to get by, and languages are only for the college-bound elite kids," said Marty Abbott, director of education at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. "That's what we're trying to overcome."
There is much more to read in the whole piece.

Schools are also facing unprecedented pressure under federal law to raise math and reading scores, and as a result, some are inadvertently pushing languages to the margins, warns a report by the
National Association of State Boards of Education.

I know that this isn't a new idea for teaching foreign languages to English-speaking children, but I wonder why it wasn't adopted long ago as the model for the teaching of foreign languages in our schools. It has been asserted by experts that the acquisition of a foreign language is one of the best methods for children to practice their "critical-thinking" skills.

Many would agree that one of the most marketable skills that anyone can possess is fluency in two or more languages. (In the interest of full disclosure, I learned Spanish while living in Mexico after graduating from college.)
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