In many school districts across the country students are introduced to foreign languages during their middle school years, and are encouraged to continue taking a language throughout their high school careers. For students planning to attend a four-year college this is especially important, as many colleges require students to take college-level language courses as part of their general education credits unless they’re exempt due to testing out or having taken a sufficient number of credits during high school.
Today, most professionals and parents can agree that becoming proficient in a second language is beneficial to children and young adults for a number of reasons – and that these benefits increase the younger a child begins learning a second language. They also believe that the most efficient and effective way for students to learn a second language is to learn it as early as possible with full immersion. This is a huge switch from the “English First” approach that many districts and parents felt was appropriate in the 1990s and that is still the norm in most school districts.
The English First method is that, essentially, a native English speaker should learn English first (they were very clever when naming this method) and once they have a complete grasp of the language then they could add in a second language if they do so choose. These language classes are conducted in a very academic way – students are shown a pen, for example, and then told how to say the word for pen in another language. This continues until they have worked their way through several levels of mastering the language and eventually after many years of study, they may become fluent.
With dual-language education, all class instruction is provided in two languages, so that native English speakers begin learning a foreign language. Conversely, those that do not speak English begin learning English in the same way that their peers are learning their native language. The end result of this type of immersive, dual-language experience is that bilingualism and biliteracy are achieved for all students by the beginning of middle school.
In a recent article, NPR explored the benefits of dual-immersion classrooms. As it turns out, there are more benefits than children becoming proficient in a second language at an incredibly quick rate. Children as young as three are found to be more empathetic than their peers when they are learning multiple languages with the immersion approach, while older students “outperformed their peers in English-reading skills by a full school-year’s worth of learning by the end of middle school.” That’s not all – students are found to be more attentive and more engaged, while students who speak a language other than English as a first language feel more accepted. And researchers have found that individuals who actively use two languages seem to have a protection against “cognitive decline and dementia” later in life.
In some school districts it may not be practical – or feasible – to begin a full dual-language immersion program, but that doesn’t mean that your children can’t still reap some of the benefits. After-school activities and extracurriculars are a great way for students to explore interest they may have outside of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and for some students that interest may be learning a second language. Pay4SchoolStuff.com is a great tool for organizing these activities – parents can sign their children up, sign permission forms, and submit registration fees quickly and securely right online. For more information on how Pay4SchoolStuff.com can help your town get an after-school program going, check us out online or email us at [email protected].