Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Strength in Language

Not enough children are learning critical languages. This article in WaPo discusses some of the growing interest in language programs for young children (Preschool immersion programs are all the rage among the uber-educated). However, obstacles exist. The troubles cited in implementing these programs include cost, and, gasp, NCLB. But when the U.S. Department of Education cites more than 200 million children in China are studying English in primary school, and only 24,000 students in U.S. schools are learning Chinese, a problem begins to emerge. Sure English is the language of commerce, and I recall a class in English criticism that cited some reasons why, including the linguistic structure of the English language, but it wouldn't hurt Americans to know a little Mandarin Chinese.

An idea stolen from Suzette Wyhs, foreign language supervisor for Loudoun schools. Regarding NCLB concerns, since languages are not tested subjects, use differentiation approaches in the classroom for students that have mastered a topic/skill. Base the foreign language lesson on a simplistic version of the already mastered English language lesson. As a elementary school student I always had gobs of extra time after I mastered a topic or finished a lesson in school. I would have happily spent that time learning another language.


Anonymous Feds said...

I fully agree. I'm from Canada and even there we have so much resistance to learning languages. Strategically for both a country and a person learning a second language is an extremely important task.

Some of us in school were lucky enough to finish our assignments fast and have nothing to do but bug other students, waste time, etc. Not to mention the loads of time spent killing time at night, on the weekend, and during the summer. Why not learn a second or (gasp!) a third language. Think of the potential in business alone if one is entering the job market speaking English, Mandarin and Spanish.

I also believe, in a sense, we are what we speak. When students are told in language classes to "think in German, don't translate", they slowly begin to make the connections between German words and German concepts in their minds... doesn't this lead to increased cultural awareness and understanding?

10:03 AM  

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