Young minds soak up foreign languages like a sponge
OU News Bureau
Gabriella Bendtsen and Dana Baird, both 9, giggle as they ask each other how their day is going. They introduce themselves, say please and thank you, and are learning how to count — all in Mandarin Chinese.
Bendtsen and Baird are fourth-graders at Adams Elementary School in the Waterford School District where Mandarin Chinese is part of the curriculum.
Children in grades second through fifth attend language classes one to two days a week where they are introduced to the different tones of Mandarin, basic conversation and are given an appreciation of Chinese culture. The district has one Mandarin Chinese teacher who travels from school to school teaching classes.
With an increasing globalized society, educators and parents are beginning to embrace the opportunity to introduce children to foreign languages at younger ages.
Elementary schools are becoming a popular avenue to teach children the basics of foreign language instead of the traditional middle or high schools.
“Our job is to prepare kids for the 21st century and these are 21st century skills,” said Lynn Bigelman, principal at Adams. “[Language] is not difficult for a child to understand. They don’t have the mental blocks adults have, they have a thirst for knowledge. It excites them.”
The ability to speak multiple languages is a skill that is becoming increasingly attractive to potential employers. Individuals that are introduced to a foreign language at a younger age have a greater ability to retain the language and speak it with more near-native speaking fluency.
“When you start learning a language as an adult, you read it like English and put in your own perception,” said Claudia DeOrio, Macomb/Oakland bilingual area manager for Futura Language Professionals. “(Kids) have an easier time mimicking and repeating a word the proper way.”
Learning a foreign language at an early age also can give students an advantage in future education. Language skills are thought to help children develop memory, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, tools that can be utilized in almost every school subject.
“(Kids’) minds are like little sponges, they absorb everything,” Bigelman said.
School districts educate students in different languages including Spanish, Chinese and Korean. Some districts, such as Farmington and Novi, offer exploratory programs that give students a brief introduction to languages including French, Chinese, German and Spanish.
Some districts in the county that do not offer language instruction during the day utilize after-school programs. Futura Language Professionals, a Spanish-language program, currently holds nine after-school classes in four school districts, three of which do not host language courses during the day.
Oakland County mandates that by 2016, all graduating seniors must receive two credits of the same foreign language.
Students with previous language instruction have an opportunity to further develop their understanding of the language. Many high schools offer testing for advanced high school students to receive college credit.
Bigelman said parents and students at Adams have been supportive of the programs and hopes the language curriculum can grow.
“I like always learning new languages, and I think seeing some things they learn and do in China is cool,” said Baird.Tweet
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