Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by Caesar753, May 10, 2011.
May 10, 2011
For example, some argue that English is now spoken everywhere, blunting the necessity for American students to learn another language. Berman scoffed. "English has become the universal language if you spend your life in airports and international hotels. It's not the lingua franca of humanity. It's a fairy tale we tell ourselves."
Marvelous article. I'm biased for obvious reasons, but my mind is blown by how many people consider foreign languages to be an unnecessary part of a K-12 education. People also ignore the fact that the study of a foreign language (ANY foreign languages) improves student performance in almost every other subject. Multilingualism is also proven to be the best prevention against Alzheimer's that we currently know of. If we're going to throw a hissy fit as a nation about not being able to compete in a "global economy," we need to take a step back and examine our priorities when it comes to the courses we require students to take.
Thanks for sharing!
This is an excellent article, I'm all for foreign languages. But the initial statement "high school students should be fluent in a second language" is an unreasonable goal, there's no way they will be fluent in 4 years. However, with 4 years of the same language + great teachers should = proficiency in the written and spoken components.
However, students are likely to struggle with a second language, if their first exposure occurs at age 14. Why not start at an earlier age, say 9-10? I'm not saying take a foreign language all the way from 4th grade, but maybe have them take a more common language in the US, such as Spanish ( or a language closer related, such as German) for a year, just to expose them to the idea of speaking, thinking in a foreign language, etc. And this would also increase the students' problem solving skills, among the other benefits.
I wish I had started Spanish in elementary school or even earlier. I'd probably be fluent. Starting in 7th grade felt too late for me and I switched to Latin, then Hebrew. I mastered none of them.
I wish my high school had offered more foreign languages. We didn't have a choice, we had to take Spanish. And I guess living in Texas that would be the smart language to study; however, it would have been nice to have a choice. x
I agree that fluency in four years is an unrealistic goal. I think that it could be done if the student began learning the second language very early, like in elementary.
I would love to see more schools adopt a dual-language approach. When I have kids, they will attend one of our district's dual-language program and be taught in both English and (most likely) Spanish from K onward.
Sweden starts kids in elementary learning math, Swedish and English. When they hit middle school, they pick up an additional language while continuing to study English and their native tongue. I can't even imagine how it's handled in the Netherlands. Don't they have four languages there?
In order for our students in Indiana to graduate with an academic diploma, they must take three years of foreign language. This is one thing our state DOE has gotten right
I took Italian all four years in high school and four years later, I know absolutely nothing. I want my children, I don't have any now but you know what I mean, to know another language so I would pursue a more proactive and earlier approach for them.
Totally true. I actually didn't start studying Spanish until 10th grade, but I owe my fluency to a semester spent abroad in Spain. But you would be AMAZED at what students are able to do after two semesters with a great teacher (not referring to myself, but teachers I have worked with).
Another thing I have noticed: American foreign language students totally overestimate their level of fluency. So many students consider themselves fluent after just two or three semesters of high school Spanish classes. They probably decide, "Eh, I can speak Spanish. I don't need to study anymore." I don't agree with shattering students' self-esteem, but I do think a lot of language students need a healthy dose of reality when it comes to understanding their own foreign language skills.
This would be awesome! I know a lot countries that require students to take English early on.
I do not like the idea of foreign languages to be mandated for graduation. I would prefer them to be electives for students and their parents. I had to take Spanish in school and for what? I have never had a desire to know or speak the language. If I had my choice, it would have been German. But that wasn't available. It was a complete waste of my time.
I know I am in the minority as a teacher, but foreign languages should be a choice of students, not a requirement.
Here in Spain a foreign language is required in elementary school (usually it's English) and also high school. Where I live the minimum is 2.5-3 hours a week for the second language in elementary. My son started French as a third language this year in third grade (though that is not typical-- certainly not in elem school.)
ETA: Here the goal at the end of mandatory education (16 years old) is not fluency, but rather "communicative competence"-- basically that they are able to fend for themselves in communicative situations, rather than 100% accuracy. I haven't read the article yet, though, so I don't know how it defines "fluency."
When I was in Spain (León), one of the students in my dorm explained that one of her reasons for studying English was to be able to read a lot of peer-reviewed articles in her field (nutrition and fitness, I think). I had never thought of that before!
In my husband's field, there is a ton of research in French and German, so he's going to have to do a lot of studying on his own to be able to read articles he'll need in the future.
I think it's great that other systems start foreign language ed so early. It really is a beneficial experience for just about anyone.
Any specific reason? Do you think this would apply to other subjects that are considered "core" subjects (for example, if students don't want to pursue a degree in the sciences, they shouldn't have to take math beyond Algebra II)? Just curious! I didn't know if your statement specifically referred to foreign languages or if you would also like to see more freedom for students across the board in terms of curriculum.
We are definitely too late in this country. Children's best time to learn language is from 5-10. why do you think so many kids pick up a little bit of Spanish from Diego and Dora. I think it's embarrassing that we as a nation assume everyone speaks our language when we go to their country. At least make an effort. Most of them do, but they appreciate the effort. But, at the same time, we do not mandate that all Americans speak our language, since we print voting ballots in other languages.
And no offense to any language teachers here. WE do not go about teaching language the right way. I took 5 years of Spanish, from high school and college, and I learned the bare minimum. I learned more spending 6 months in Peru because I had to speak Spanish to survive. We expect them to memorize and conjugate, but that's not how we learn English. We learn English by using it. Yes, we have to memorize grammar rules, etc., but you will never see an elementary school class reciting "I ran, you run, she runs, they run, we run. (At least I don't think so)
It's a myth that children learn foreign languages faster or better than adults.
tchr~I think you're right. And if I could, I would plop myself in the middle of France or Italy and really learn the language.
Our Spanish teacher has the students converse in the language once they learn enough to carry on conversations. I think it's really helpful. I didn't learn squat in my Spanish class aside from playing card games and watching movies....in English. I do know enough to read most Spanish.
This is a really good point. My field of study consists of a few ancient languages. Most of the scholarly work about those languages is written in German or French. As a grad student I remember sitting on the floor of the research library with big German books scanning page after page for one or two words or phrases. Not knowing German made my graduate school life a little unpleasant at times. :lol:
Immersion is a great way to learn another language. Depending on the purpose for learning the language, however, it's not the only way.
The goal for most students who learn my language is not to learn to speak it conversationally but to read it. For that reason, the typical program of study for my language is extremely heavy on the grammar. We do spend a ton of time conjugating verbs, talking about subjects and direct objects, etc. Having the grammar down is an essential skill, much more important than being able to speak the language.
I have to agree to a certain extent. I've just started teaching French here in January, and while I feel like I am not very strong in the subject (at least as far as teaching it), I do feel very strongly that the program itself is good, particularly in grade five.
We base the whole curriculum around being communicative in the language. Grade five spends half the year doing "Intensive French", where they only have French all day, with the exception of Phys Ed, Music and Math. It's not immersion, where other subjects are integrated, it is simply French Language Arts. The other half of the year, they get their Science, Social Studies and English Language Arts, as well as 2.5 hours weekly of French.
I have to say that I had a few weeks with one grade five class teaching their 2.5 hours/week, before they had done their half year in French, and then I started teaching a new group, that had finished their half year in French. The difference in their abilities was amazing. Clearly, the Intensive French program works, and children are becoming functional in a second language.
The program is fairly new here (just three years old, I believe), but it would be interesting to see how students do when they get to grade twelve, and particularly, whether or not they are bilingual.
Oh, you're absolutely right. We've almost crippled foreign language education with bad teaching strategies (I'm referring to modern languages specifically). Schools also separate the teaching of culture from the teaching of the language itself when the two should be combined. We've made language learning a very unnatural process, but I'm glad to see the field is moving in a better direction as of late.
In Hungary, we had to take Russian starting in 3rd or 4th grade (can't remember exactly) - all the way through high school. I didn't like it, a lot of us didn't because we had no choice, but it was really helpful. The ability to switch between 2 languages in a split second, memorizing and recalling vocabulary, grammatical rules and then apply advanced thinking / problem solving skills to communicate is a really good foundation for a lot of skills. Just like they say math and music have influences on each other, a second language can also positively influence cognitive skills, if started early on.
Did we become fluent? No, of course not, but we could make lengthy conversations, read, write and understand lengthy texts, etc. The fact that we had to learn a whole new alphabet added to the benefits. If we had a choice in a language, that would have been better.
Some students (don't know how they chose them) were also taking English in addition to Russian, starting in 5th grade. Then in high school we had to take another language, again no choice - in my high school it was German. Other schools had English, or French, and maybe some Spanish or Italian.
I think a foreign language should be a requirement, but with a choice of 2-3 languages, that would keep the students more motivated.
Also, I agree that fluency shouldn't be the goal, it should be "communicative competence".
Exposure is very important in learning a language, as we all know it. Since my early childhood i spent a couple of weeks with my family either in Germany, or have our German friends with us in Hungary, just about every year. And although I wasn't made to speak or even learn the language because of this, I had my innate curiosity and desire to understand and communicate. By the time high school came around, and started learning German, it was a breeze for me. I had absolutely no difficulties in understanding the grammar, and the words just stuck in my mind like glue.
We have so much exposure of Spanish, at least in some parts of the country, like in California. Listen to the radio, watch tv, and there's no problem finding native speakers - that is such a huge advantage! (i didn't have access to any of these). If a couple of weeks / summers helped me out so much, imagine what all this exposure can help the students here!
Actually, several studies have shown that children do learn foreign languages better than adults do. Check out the "critical age hypothesis". It is still hotly debated, but I wouldn't dismiss it completely as a myth.
When a child learns a second language at an early age, their brain actually forms differently than it would have if they didn't learn a second language. Research shows that being bilingual is absolutely great. But, it should happen in the early years. At about age 12, our brains do some pruning, and any connections that have not yet been made get cut. I never have understood why foreign language typically is not offered until high school. Also, I would argue that fluency should be one's goal. Why not go whole way? If a child begins learning another language before 12, fluency could happen much more quickly. All our Korean students speak 3 languages, having learned them all early. They are amazing kids with amazing brains. I think our problem is we don't push ourselves enough. How much of our brains are we not using and not willing to use? I think we really underestimate our ability, and that's why other countries are really outperforming the US academically.
My sons' elementary school does teach Spanish, but it's as a once-a-week special and their gains in it are very slow. I do think it's better than nothing, however. Next year they're losing one Spanish teacher, due to budget cuts.
Lots of studies also show that it's a myth.
well, of course attaining fluency would be great. But for as of right now, where we are with foreign language education, I would just aim for communicative competence )Some parents or students might say :I'll won't become fluent, so why even try? But if we just have 1 reasonable goal at a time, it seems easier to attain.
When I first started college, I just wanted to learn Arabic. Then it grew to want to get my Associates. When I was done with that, I wanted to get my Bachelors. When I was done with that, I wanted my Masters, and along with it came my teaching credential. 6 years, and it started out with 1 or maybe 2 semesters of 1 class. If someone told me I was supposed to get my masters, I would have been too overwhelmed and scared and probably not have even tried.
I also don't think that it is a myth that children learn easier. There are lots of examples, but here's just one: I know a couple, the mom is Greek, the dad is Arabic. Their child is growing up speaking 3 languages as her 1st languages. The dad is talking to her in Arabic, the mom in Greek (and of course their entire extended family is involved) and everyone else in English. She's now in kindergarten. When she was just a toddler, she already equally understood and responded to all 3 languages.
here I am, with 7 semester length Arabic classes, in addition to that years of self study (before, during and after), including one specific dialect, 7 years of exposure to the language via native speakers (I know, I'm not in an Arabic speaking country ), definitely enough to practice, etc, and I still feel very rusty. When I started, I was 31 y. - 25 years too late )
The rules for learning a first language are different from the rules for learning a second language.
I've studied this topic extensively during my academic and professional careers. I'm confident saying that it's a myth that children learn languages faster and easier than adults. You're free to disagree.
Could you refer me to some studies that support the argument that studying a second language earlier is not necessarily better than studying one later? I'm not doubting you at all. I'd just love to read the studies!
I think that's a great example. My daughter grew up with both Spanish and English as her first language. My husband spoke Spanish to her while I would speak to her in English. She is completely fluent in both languages, and can speak Spanish with a perfect Spanish accent, and English with a perfect American accent. Now, I didn't take Spanish until high school, and I took 3 years then. I met DH right after high school, and we married shortly after. I really tried speaking Spanish with him, but never developed fluency, and now that we are in Mexico I of course speak Spanish on a daily basis, but my accent isn't always perfect (and is worse on days I am tired, or too much going on), and sometimes I have to work hard to think of the Spanish word. I am getting there, but I don't think I will ever sound like a native speaker, like my daughter sounds. I can, however, hold meetings with parents without translators, so my Spanish is obviously advanced, but I have a long way to go! So, just from research I have read, and my own personal experience, I truly do believe that it is easier for children to learn a second language.
"Myths and Misconceptions about Second Language Learning" by The National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning
Myth 1: Children learn second languages quickly and easily
Typically, people who assert the superiority of child learners claim that children's brains are more flexible (e.g., Lenneberg, 1967). Current research challenges this biological imperative, arguing that different rates of L2 acquisition may reflect psychological and social factors that favor child learners (Newport, 1990). Research comparing children to adults has consistently demonstrated that adolescents and adults perform better than young children under controlled conditions (e.g., Snow & Hoefnagel-Hoehle, 1978). One exception is pronunciation, although even here some studies show better results for older learners.
Nonetheless, people continue to believe that children learn languages faster than adults. Is this superiority illusory? Let us consider the criteria of language proficiency for a child and an adult. A child does not have to learn as much as an adult to achieve communicative competence. A child's constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is smaller. Hence, although it appears that the child learns more quickly than the adult, research results typically indicate that adult and adolescent learners perform better.
Teachers should not expect miraculous results from children learning English as a second language (ESL) in the classroom. At the very least, they should anticipate that learning a second language is as difficult for a child as it is for an adult. It may be even more difficult, since young children do not have access to the memory techniques and other strategies that more experienced learners use in acquiring vocabulary and in learning grammatical rules.
Nor should it be assumed that children have fewer inhibitions than adults when they make mistakes in an L2. Children are more likely to be shy and embarrassed around peers than are adults. Children from some cultural backgrounds are extremely anxious when singled out to perform in a language they are in the process of learning. Teachers should not assume that, because children supposedly learn second languages quickly, such discomfort will readily pass.
Myth 2: The younger the child, the more skilled in acquiring an L2
Some researchers argue that the earlier children begin to learn a second language, the better (e.g., Krashen, Long, & Scarcella, 1979). However, research does not support this conclusion in school settings. For example, a study of British children learning French in a school context concluded that, after 5 years of exposure, older children were better L2 learners (Stern, Burstall, & Harley, 1975). Similar results have been found in other European studies (e.g., Florander & Jansen, 1968).
These findings may reflect the mode of language instruction used in Europe, where emphasis has traditionally been placed on formal grammatical analysis. Older children are more skilled in dealing with this approach and hence might do better. However, this argument does not explain findings from studies of French immersion programs in Canada, where little emphasis is placed on the formal aspects of grammar. On tests of French language proficiency, Canadian English-speaking children in late immersion programs (where the L2 is introduced in Grade 7 or 8) have performed as well or better than children who began immersion in kindergarten or Grade 1 (Genesee, 1987).
Pronunciation is one area where the younger-is-better assumption may have validity. Research (e.g., Oyama, 1976) has found that the earlier a learner begins a second language, the more native-like the accent he or she develops.
The research cited above does not suggest, however, that early exposure to an L2 is detrimental. An early start for "foreign" language learners, for example, makes a long sequence of instruction leading to potential communicative proficiency possible and enables children to view second language learning and related cultural insights as normal and integral. Nonetheless, ESL instruction in the United States is different from foreign language instruction. Language minority children in U.S. schools need to master English as quickly as possible while learning subject-matter content. This suggests that early exposure to English is called for. However, because L2 acquisition takes time, children continue to need the support of their first language, where this is possible, to avoid falling behind in content area learning.
Teachers should have realistic expectations of their ESL learners. Research suggests that older students will show quicker gains, though younger children may have an advantage in pronunciation. Certainly, beginning language instruction in Grade 1 gives children more exposure to the language than beginning in Grade 6, but exposure in itself does not predict language acquisition.
Myth 3: The more time students spend in a second language context, the quicker they learn the language
Many educators believe children from non-English-speaking backgrounds will learn English best through structured immersion, where they have ESL classes and content-based instruction in English. These programs provide more time on task in English than bilingual classes.
Research, however, indicates that this increased exposure to English does not necessarily speed the acquisition of English. Over the length of the program, children in bilingual classes, with exposure to the home language and to English, acquire English language skills equivalent to those acquired by children who have been in English-only programs (Cummins, 1981; Ramirez, Yuen, & Ramey, 1991). This would not be expected if time on task were the most important factor in language learning.
Researchers also caution against withdrawing home language support too soon and suggest that although oral communication skills in a second language may be acquired within 2 or 3 years, it may take 4 to 6 years to acquire the level of proficiency needed for understanding the language in its academic uses (Collier, 1989; Cummins, 1981).
Teachers should be aware that giving language minority children support in the home language is beneficial. The use of the home language in bilingual classrooms enables children to maintain grade-level school work, reinforces the bond between the home and the school, and allows them to participate more effectively in school activities. Furthermore, if the children acquire literacy skills in the first language, as adults they may be functionally bilingual, with an advantage in technical or professional careers.
Myth 4: Children have acquired an L2 once they can speak it
Some teachers assume that children who can converse comfortably in English are in full control of the language. Yet for school-aged children, proficiency in face-to-face communication does not imply proficiency in the more complex academic language needed to engage in many classroom activities. Cummins (1980) cites evidence from a study of 1,210 immigrant children in Canada who required much longer (approximately 5 to 7 years) to master the disembedded cognitive language required for the regular English curriculum than to master oral communicative skills.
Educators need to be cautious in exiting children from programs where they have the support of their home language. If children who are not ready for the all-English classroom are mainstreamed, their academic success may be hindered. Teachers should realize that mainstreaming children on the basis of oral language assessment is inappropriate.
All teachers need to be aware that children who are learning in a second language may have language problems in reading and writing that are not apparent if their oral abilities are used to gauge their English proficiency. These problems in academic reading and writing at the middle and high school levels may stem from limitations in vocabulary and syntactic knowledge. Even children who are skilled orally can have such gaps.
Myth 5: All children learn an L2 in the same way
Most teachers would probably not admit that they think all children learn an L2 in the same way or at the same rate. Yet, this assumption seems to underlie a great deal of practice. Cultural anthropologists have shown that mainstream U.S. families and families from minority cultural backgrounds have different ways of talking (Heath, 1983). Mainstream children are accustomed to a deductive, analytic style of talking, whereas many culturally diverse children are accustomed to an inductive style. U.S. schools emphasize language functions and styles that predominate in mainstream families. Language is used to communicate meaning, convey information, control social behavior, and solve problems, and children are rewarded for clear and logical thinking. Children who use language in a different manner often experience frustration.
Social class also influences learning styles. In urban, literate, and technologically advanced societies, middle-class parents teach their children through language. Traditionally, most teaching in less technologically advanced, non-urbanized cultures is carried out nonverbally, through observation, supervised participation, and self-initiated repetition (Rogoff, 1990). There is none of the information testing through questions that characterizes the teaching-learning process in urban and suburban middle-class homes.
In addition, some children are more accustomed to learning from peers than from adults. Cared for and taught by older siblings or cousins, they learn to be quiet in the presence of adults and have little interaction with them. In school, they are likely to pay more attention to what their peers are doing than to what the teacher is saying.
Individual children also react to school and learn differently within groups. Some children are outgoing and sociable and learn the second language quickly. They do not worry about mistakes, but use limited resources to generate input from native speakers. Other children are shy and quiet. They learn by listening and watching. They say little, for fear of making a mistake. Nonetheless, research shows that both types of learners can be successful second language learners.
In a school environment, behaviors such as paying attention and persisting at tasks are valued. Because of cultural differences, some children may find the interpersonal setting of the school culture difficult. If the teacher is unaware of such cultural differences, their expectations and interactions with these children may be influenced.
Effective instruction for children from culturally diverse backgrounds requires varied instructional activities that consider the children's diversity of experience. Many important educational innovations in current practice have resulted from teachers adapting instruction for children from culturally diverse backgrounds. Teachers need to recognize that experiences in the home and home culture affect children's values, patterns of language use, and interpersonal style. Children are likely to be more responsive to a teacher who affirms the values of the home culture.
Research on second language learning has shown that many misconceptions exist about how children learn languages. Teachers need to be aware of these misconceptions and realize that quick and easy solutions are not appropriate for complex problems. Second language learning by school-aged children takes longer, is harder, and involves more effort than many teachers realize.
We should focus on the opportunity that cultural and linguistic diversity provides. Diverse children enrich our schools and our understanding of education in general. In fact, although the research of the National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning has been directed at children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, much of it applies equally well to mainstream students.
You can also look at the National Council for Teachers of English.
It has been noted in a number of contexts that academic language - by which I mean not only vocabulary but also the sentence structures and text structures of academic prose - can profitably be considered a kind of second language. If the so-called critical-age hypothesis is correct, none of us should be able to make the leap from the reading and writing required in high school to the reading and writing required to succeed in college or graduate school - but the fact is that we do.
I believe all students should be somewhat fluent in at least one another language. Perhaps they should choose between 4-5 such as Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, German, etc. But--and I know I'm opening Pandora's box here--should we also require that newcomers to the US whose children will be enrolling in our public school system take lessons in English? I have kindergarten students who were born in the US--so their parents have been here at least 5-6 years--but the parents know 2 words in English. Should we require English language lessons so that they can participate more in their child's education?
This comes from, "How the Brain Learns" by David Sousa. "The power of a young child's brain to learn spoken languages is so immense that it can learn several languages at one time. But by the age of 10 to 12 months, the brain is already beginning to lose its ability to discriminate sounds between its native language and nonnative languages. The implication here is that if we wish children to acquire a second language, it makes sense to start that acquisition during the early years when the brain is actively creating phonemic sound and syntactic networks. Studies show that proficiency in learning a second language depends not on how long nonnatives have been speaking the language, but on how early life they began learning it. Researches Jacqueline Johnson and Elissa Newport found that immigrants who started speaking English at ages 3 to 7 spoke like natives and with no discernible accent. Those who started speaking between the ages 8 and 10 had about 80 percent of the proficiency of native speaks; those who started between ages 11 and 15 spoke with only half the proficiency, and those who started after age 17 had only about 15 percent of the proficiency of the average person born in America (Johnson & Newport, 1991). This indicates that the window of opportunity for language acquisition slides down in the preteen years so that learning a second language is certainly possible, but more difficult." pg. 183
I think there's a difference in requiring children and teenagers in school to take a foreign language and requiring adults to do so. I think it wouldn't be appropriate to require that adults study anything in particular, be it a foreign language, science, math, whatever. Obviously I think that adults should want to be educated, but it's their right not to be. When it comes to children, though, we as a society have determined that certain subjects are not only beneficial but also essential to live and thrive in society. We teach math, English, social studies, etc. in order to produce an educated workforce. Foreign language should be part of that core curriculum, in my opinion.
I don't think we can force English classes on adults, but as a school system we should be looking at second-language fluency as a goal for our students.
Caesar, on this you and I agree 100%.
The first part has to do more with the sounds of the language rather than the language itself. It is true that children adopt the sounds of a new language faster and better than adults. This is because their mouths and throats are still fairly elastic and their brain can process and differentiate sounds better than an adult. There is a huge difference between being able to make the sounds of a language and actually knowing the language. They're not the same thing.
As for the second part about language proficiency in immigrants, I'm not sure that I think it's appropriate to make such a huge leap between age of arrival and proficiency levels. It seems to me that there would likely be lots of other factors involved in improving proficiency, including language buy-in of the individual, his family, and his community, and desire to preserve cultural-language connections. I think that there needs to be more research before this type of connection can be made.
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