By Halie Wingo
In many schools in the United States, including here in Whiteland, teachers start teaching a foreign language in middle or high school, which can be ineffective to many students’ comprehension of a language. Teaching a language earlier can help students’ understanding of a language.
In Whiteland, the only language classes that are offered are Spanish 1 for eighth graders and Spanish 1-4 and French 1-4 for high schoolers. Students need to take at least two years to graduate and three years to graduate with an Academic Honors diploma.
Studies have found that it is easier to understand a foreign language if you have learned it before puberty. After puberty, it is much more difficult for someone to learn a language. Research organized by Dr. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington shows that by 8-12 months, babies start to focus on the sounds they hear every day and lose their “ear” for other languages.
Being fluent in a language can also boost career opportunities, help with being hired to do certain jobs and save students money in college courses because if they are fluent in a language, they can test out of foreign language classes.
So the question remains: why don’t more schools teach foreign languages to elementary age children? Schools focus so much more on students’ math and reading scores on tests, which is essential to students, but why not teach something just as useful to students’ futures, like a foreign language?
In schools around the nation, teachers can add 30 minutes of foreign language instruction instead of a game. If students are taught from elementary school how to speak Spanish, they can take higher level Spanish classes in middle school and high school.
Many schools teach foreign language in elementary school, but do not teach it in a way that is beneficial to students’ futures because it’s not taught daily or they merely teach counting and greetings. Once children enter first grade, the curriculum is mostly reading and math and almost never foreign language. If students were taught foreign language from elementary school, many students would be fluent in a second language by the time they graduate.
Schools should be teaching foreign languages starting in elementary schools to develop skills in the language and help them pick up languages easier in the future, instead of trying to force them to learn it to graduate high school.