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Foreign Language Learning: What’s The Value For Your Child?

The research is impressive on what happens when kids learn a foreign language. Some of the findings are that it:

  • Makes students smarter and more creative
  • Helps them become more observant and perceptive
  • Builds multi-tasking and decision-making abilities
  • Fosters cultural understanding
  • Prepares students for college and life success

What’s more, the best time to start is when children are young and more receptive. This may be why it appears kids learn a foreign language more easily than adults. However:

Only 25% of U.S. Elementary Schools Offer World Languages

Just 10 years ago, about one-third of these schools offered language instruction. Budget problems and a focus on testing other subjects have led to cutbacks. Ironically, this comes at a time when there’s greater interest in learning second languages, such as Spanish or Chinese. To add to the irony, studies have shown that early language learning actually improves students’ test scores in other subjects!

Some schools are bucking this trend, making an even bigger commitment to language study, and succeeding. An excellent report in eSchoolNews highlights the Minnetonka, Minnesota school district, which offers optional world language immersion programs in either Spanish or Chinese. Begun in 2007, the program goes from Kindergarten through middle school. As one mom says, “They’re young and they don’t even know it’s supposed to be hard—and their brains are ready to take in a lot of things in.”

See the inspiring Minnetonka Chinese language immersion program in action:

What are the Options for Your Child?

Since programs like Minnetonka’s are the exception, how can parents without language instruction in their local school get their children started on language learning?

An independent study solution is offered by K12, the leader in K – 12 online learning. K12 offers world language courses for the elementary years. These full year courses immerse students in language and culture:

  • Highly visual and amusing stories and activities are geared toward younger students.
  • The courses are loaded with graphics, games, and interactive activities.
  • A game-based reward system keeps learners motivated and eager to progress.
  • Each language program has 180 30- or 45-minute interactive lessons.

K12 partners with the renowned Middlebury Interactive Languages, and their Chief Learning Officer, Aline Germain Rutherford, told us, “We want students to experience the language, to live the language and its culture, and not just learn about the language. Most importantly, we want to help students develop a love of learning about other cultures and other people, across the world or in their own neighborhood community, by learning and experiencing their language.”

For elementary students there are two full-year courses, available in Spanish, French, German, and Latin. Chinese language courses are recommended for middle school students.

The courses align with the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). In fact, for more about the many benefits of learning a second language, the ACTFL’s website has this great research page.

Good luck, buena suerte, and 祝好运 (zhù hǎo yùn)!

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Michael Solow

Michael Solow

Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.

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