The Benefits of Teaching Foreign Language in Elementary School
The ultimate goal in many classrooms is to communicate in meaningful and appropriate ways (Slavit 1998). In the United States, American students get the opportunity to learn a second language in high school, yet it has been proven that children learn better when they are young. Some schools are taking this opportunity to teach a foreign language to elementary students.
The United States may be the only nation where it's possible to complete elementary and secondary schooling without completing any foreign languages (Schulz 2001). In some countries, such as Lebanon, Asia, teachers within public elementary schools are required to teach two or three different languages, usually English and French, to their students. Many schools within European and Asian countries teach two languages to their students before they enter high school. In America, students are introduced to a foreign language in high school where it is difficult for them to master a second language (Naserdeen 2001).
Newsweek ran an edition that was mainly about the importance of early learning experiences on brain development. They said that within the first three years of a child's life, there is a "window of opportunity", and second language learning should start taking place around one year of age. They also said that after ten years of age, a person is unlikely to ever speak like a native of the language would (Why 2001). Mantrel explains this as "Synapses or avenues in the brain are opened up by foreign language instruction when it is introduced at an early age. If languages are not introduced at an early age, these synapses are not accessed, and language learning is much more difficult to acquire in later years." Research also supports this thought by the Positron Emission Tomography (PET). PET shows that a four-year-olds brain is twice as active as an adult brain (Naserdeen 2001).
Thirty years ago the "critical period" for learning a second language ended when puberty started. The original theory was that once you mastered one language, then it would be too difficult to learn another. Such as, if a child learned English first, they would not be able to learn Spanish, German etc. later on in life. However, when researchers found out that a majority of the learning was done within the first couple years of childhood, studies were turned to the neurons in the brain. They found out that the more neurons one has, the greater their capability to learn. Kim Karl recently showed everyone that when late learners of a foreign language read to themselves in a different language, they use two distinct parts of the brain, one for each language. While a younger person, reads to him/her self in another language they only use one part of the brain (Marshall 2000).
Between the years of 1980-1990 there was over a 50% increase in Hispanics in the United States (Brock 1998). During this time, German was the most studied...