How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language?
experts agree that the earlier a child is introduced to a second
language, the greater the chances are that the child will become
truly proficient in the language. A February 1996 Newsweek article
made the claim that "A child taught a second language after the
age of 10 or so is unlikely ever to speak it like a native." This
statement is supported by linguists and has been proven in extensive
addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more
people, children may derive other benefits from early language instruction,
including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving
skills. Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive
advantage in the work force by opening up additional job opportunities.
Are the Benefits of Knowing a Second Language?
of foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized
tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors:
The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College
Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged 4
or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal
section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had
studied 4 or more years in any other subject area. In addition,
the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken 4 or
more years of foreign language study was identical to the score
of those who had studied the same number of years of mathematics.
These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous
of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities
and develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures.
Some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language
instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems.
The benefits to society are many. Americans fluent in other languages
enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication,
and maintain our political and security interests.
Is It Better for My Child To Learn a Language in Elementary School?
have shown -- and experience has supported -- that children who
learn a language before the onset of adolescence are much more likely
to have native-like pronunciation. A number of experts attribute
this proficiency to physiological changes that occur in the maturing
brain as a child enters puberty. Of course, as with any subject,
the more years a child can devote to learning a language, the more
competent he or she will become. Regardless, introducing children
to alternative ways of expressing themselves and to different cultures
generally broadens their outlook and gives them the opportunity
to communicate with many more people.
Are Languages Taught to Children?
three major types of programs available in elementary schools are
language immersion programs, foreign language in elementary schools
(FLES) programs, and foreign language exploratory (FLEX) programs.
* Immersion programs allow children to spend part or all of the school
day learning in a second language. In full (total) immersion programs,
which are available in a limited number of schools, children learn
all of their subjects (math, social studies, science, etc.) in the
second language. Partial immersion programs operate on the same
principle, but only a portion of the curriculum is presented in
the second language. Under this type of program, a child may learn
social studies and science in Spanish or French in the morning and
learn mathematics and language arts in English in the afternoon.
In both cases, the second language is the medium for content instruction
rather than the subject of instruction. Children enrolled in immersion
programs work toward full proficiency in the second language and
usually reach a higher level of competence than those participating
in other language programs.
* FLES programs are more common than immersion programs. A second language
is presented as a distinct subject, much as science or social studies.
Typically, the course is taught three to five times per week. Depending
on the frequency of the classes and the opportunity for practice,
children in these sequential programs may attain substantial proficiency
in the language studied.
* FLEX programs introduce students to other cultures and to language as
a general concept. Time is spent exploring one or more languages
or presenting information about language itself. Although this information
may be introduced, the emphasis is not on attaining proficiency.
While some proficiency may be attained with a once- or twice-per-week
program emphasizing the use of a specific language, parents should
not expect children to attain fluency in such programs. These programs,
however, can provide a basis for later learning.
a Second Language Interfere With My Child's English Ability?
most cases, learning another language enhances a child's English
ability. Children can learn much about English by learning the structure
of other languages. Common vocabulary also helps children learn
the meaning of new words in English. Experimental studies have shown
that no long-term delay in native English language development occurs
between children participating in second language immersion classes
and those schooled exclusively in English.
fact, children enrolled in foreign language programs score statistically
higher on standardized tests conducted in English. A number of reports
have demonstrated that children who have learned a second language
earn higher SAT scores, particularly on the verbal section of the
test. One study showed that by the fifth year of an immersion program,
students outperform all comparison groups and remain high academic
achievers throughout their schooling.
My Child Is Enrolled in a Language Program in Her School, What Can
I Do To Help Her Learn and Practice?
importantly, encourage your child's interest in the language and
in other cultures. Show her that you value the ability to speak
a second language. Attend cultural events that feature music, dance,
or food from the country or countries where the language is spoken.
If possible, provide some books, videos, or other materials in the
second language. If you are familiar with the language yourself,
read to her. Summer programs offering international exchange are
suitable for older children and offer valuable opportunities to
speak the second language and explore a different culture firsthand.
Children normally live with a host family, which provides them with
a safe and sheltered environment where they can practice their language
My Child's School Does Not Offer Language Study, What Can I Do To
Help Establish a Program?
to the school principal about your interest in seeing a program
established. Determine what type of program best fits your needs.
Join with other parents interested in starting up a program. Discuss
the possibility at a PTA meeting. Write to the teachers, the school
board, and the school district headquarters. Many resources are
available to help parents and teachers establish a second language
program. For general information on early language programs, contact
the following organizations:
for Language Learning
City, CA 90231
Clearinghouse on Languages
22d Street NW
National FLES* Institute
University of Maryland at Baltimore
of Modern Languages and Linguistics
Network for Early Language
Center for Applied Linguistics
22d Street NW
identified with ED or EJ are abstracted in the ERIC database. References
with EJ are journal articles available at most research libraries.
Those with ED are available in microfiche collections at more than
900 locations or can be obtained in paper copy from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service at 1-800-443-ERIC. Call 1-800-LET-ERIC for
Z. A. 1987. "Neurobiological Foundations for Foreign Language Accents."
International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching
25 (3): 203-13. EJ 361 139.
S. 1984. Profiles, College-Bound Seniors, 1984. New York:
College Entrance Examination Board. ED 253 157.
K. W., and D. T. Mizokawa. 1991. "Additive-Bilingual (Immersion)
Education: Cognitive and Language Development." Language Learning
41 (3): 413-29. EJ 432 977.
S. February 19, 1996. "Your Child's Brain." Newsweek 127
Entrance Examination Board. 1992. College-Bound Seniors. 1992 Profile
of SAT and Achievement Test Takers. National Report. New York:
College Entrance Examination Board. ED 351 352.
Entrance Examination Board. 1982. Profiles, College-Bound Seniors,
1981. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. ED 223 708.
T. C. 1987. "Foreign Language Study and SAT-Verbal Scores." Modern
Language Journal 71 (4): 381-87. EJ 363 615.
H., and C. A. Pesola. 1994. Languages and Children: Making the
Match, 2d edition. White Plains, NY: Longman. ED 376 717.
S. (Speaker). 1995. Gray Matters: The Developing Brain. (Final
Script of Radio Broadcast) Madison, WI: Wisconsin Public Radio Association.
F. 1987. Learning Through Two Languages. Cambridge, MA: Newbury
G. 1995. Focus on FLES*: Planning and Implementing FLES* Programs
(Foreign Language in Elementary Schools). Baltimore, MD: National
M. 1993. Foreign Language Immersion Programs. ERIC Digest. Washington,
DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. ED 363 141.
M. S. 1990. "Age and Accent in a Second Language: A Reply to James
Emil Flege." Applied Linguistics 11 (1): 73-90. EJ 405 461.
M. H. 1995. Guidelines for Starting an Elementary School Foreign
Language Program. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Languages and Linguistics. ED 383 227.
W. P., V. P. Collier, and M. Abbott. 1993. "Academic Achievement
Through Japanese, Spanish, or French: The First Two Years of Partial
Immersion." Modern Language Journal 77 (2): 170-180. EJ 465
D. April 1996. "Heads Up: Time To Go Bilingual?" Smartkid
1 (4): 45&endash;49.
was written by Kathleen Marcos of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages
publication was prepared by ACCESS
ERIC with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RK95188001.
The opinions expressed in this brochure do not necessarily reflect
the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. This
brochure is in the public domain. Authorization to reproduce it
in whole or in part is granted.