Foreign language starting in elementary school?

Ali Verdi and Priyanka Ninan and Priyanka Ninan

Recent studies have shown that children absorb languages much faster at a younger age, yet students in Port Washington do not begin studying foreign languages until middle school.

Evidence indicates that the best time to start learning a language is age two.  Children who start at this age can reach fluency by age five.

By the time children reach middle school, the ability to easily and efficiently absorb language has declined.

“The younger you start a language the easier it is to learn,” said Spanish teacher Mrs. Korba-Rapp. “The problem with starting in middle school is that many other things going on with your body and brain that it becomes really difficult to learn a new language.”

Starting to learn a language in Weber is too late and no amount of homework or studying can make up for the lost time.

“If they’re serious about students actually learning a language and being able to speak it fluently, research suggests that the younger the better,” said AP Psychology teacher Mr. Larry Schultz.  “Therefore, I would say the earliest you could start, the better it would be.  The closer you are to the ‘critical period,’ where you can learn languages, the better you are.”

Many students feel that their language skills haven’t progressed since middle school, which can lead to a loss of motivation.

“People who learn another language when they are younger don’t have an accent because they are learning them side by side and in the long run, they become bilingual,” said Korba Rapp. “It is easier for them to process the language at a younger age.”

If language had been introduced into the curriculum at an earlier age, students might have been fluent by now.    “Even after six years of taking French, I don’t feel like I could carry on a conversation with a native French speaker,” said junior Lael Franco.

Many foreign language courses taught in school focus on written grammar rules and vocabulary.  More important, however, is that students develop the skills necessary to converse in their chosen foreign language with native speakers.  Many foreign language teachers at Schreiber are fluent at foreign languages because they spend an extended amount of time in that country.

Being forced to practice speaking the language in an immersive setting from a young age is the most effective way to ensure that a student will become fluent.  Some teachers make an effort to expose their students to whatever foreign language they are teaching for the entire hour.

This method proves to be effective because it drives the students to not only speak the language throughout the period, but also to comprehend what the teacher has said.  The more often teachers enforce this type of learning, the more fluent students will become.

Another issue with learning a language later in life is that there are certain aspects of language that aren’t easily learned.

The pronunciation that you learn when you’re younger is hard to teach once reaching a certain age.

“It’s so much easier to pick up on a new language at a younger age,” said junior Nisha Nanda.  “I think middle school is a bit too late to start learning a second or third language.  Foreign languages should be introduced in elementary schools because it would make the language more like second nature.”

Schools, students, and foreign language teachers would benefit greatly from instituting foreign language into the curriculum of children in elementary school as early as first grade.