Why Foreign Language Should Be a Core Subject

Silvana Domaz Professor Hussein ENG108: Writing Project #4 22 April 2012 Why Foreign Language Should be a Core Subject in Public Elementary School The benefits of learning a foreign language go beyond learning a different culture or being able to communicate with people of different backgrounds. It is essential that Americans speak languages other than English in order to compete internationally, keep the country safe, and prepare children to be world citizens.

Several language organizations, educators, and policy makers have recommended the introduction of a second language at the elementary school level as a way of assuring a high level of language proficiency (Pufahl and Rhodes 273). However, the reality of foreign language education in the United States is far from that goal.

The Center for Applied Linguistics conducted a nationwide survey of public and private schools in 2008 and discovered that “since 1997, the percentage of elementary and middle schools that offer foreign language courses has fallen significantly, from 31 percent to 25 percent at the elementary level and from 75 percent to 58 percent at the middle school level” (Pufahl and Rhodes 261). One of the reasons for the decline could be attributed to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 signed by President George W. Bush.

The NCLB act is a framework aimed at improving the performance of America’s elementary and secondary schools, with a stronger emphasis on reading. About one third of all public schools with foreign language programs reported being affected by NCLB (Pufahl and Rhodes 270). Educators and politicians see the need for improving students’ achievement in reading and math and for a better score on standardized tests (Stewart 11). For that reason schools are under pressure to allocate time and resources to math and English-language arts instruction.

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Educators and school administrators are left with no budget, resources or time to use for foreign language education (Pufahl and Rhodes 273). In contrast, in June 2004, the Department of Defense and the University of Maryland joined for a summit on National Language Policy. It became very clear that “there is an immediate need for governmental personnel who can function at the advanced proficiency level in foreign languages” (Byrnes 247). The government needs people who are able to communicate in other languages, people who can understand different cultures and analyze critical content and ideas from other countries.

Projections for the total numbers of speakers of various languages for the year 2050 indicate that Mandarin will surpass English (Byrnes 254). Thus, it is likely that trade and diplomacy will be increasingly conducted with those who speak languages other than English, such as Mandarin. In 2000, the Center for Applied Linguistics conducted a study to collect data from 19 countries on their foreign language programs and methodologies so that the results could help improve language teaching in the U. S.

Those countries were Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Spain, and Thailand. Some of the recommendations drawn from the study results are: 1) start language education early; 2) push for stronger federal leadership in language teaching; 3) improve teacher education; and 4) take advantage of the rich sociolinguistic context in the United States (Pufahl and Rhodes and Christian 3).

Starting language education at an early age will lead to higher levels of language proficiency not only in one language but also in multiple languages. Based on the survey, most countries begin foreign language instruction in the elementary grades, while most schools in the U. S start at age 14. In Arizona, foreign language courses are not a requirement. According to Jill Campos, World Language Academic Coach for the Scottsdale School District, “foreign language is introduced for a semester at 6th and 7th grades as an exploratory course.

Eight graders can take the first year of a world language for high school credit and continue, if they so choose, through the 5th year”. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) report that “the language areas of the brain seem to go through the most dynamic period of growth between the ages of 6 and 13” (qtd. in Talukder 3). The UCLA study instead suggests that “the elementary and middle school years are the biologically most advantageous times for acquisition of a second language” (qtd. in Talukder 3).

It is during the first years of life that “the foundations for thinking, language, vision, attitudes, aptitudes, and other characteristics are laid down,” says Ronald Kotulak, author of Inside the Brain (qtd. in Dryden and Voss 266). Studies of the brain show that a second language is stored in the same part of the brain as a first language when learned by age 8. After that age, a second language is stored in a different part of the brain. However, simply introducing a program at the elementary level is not enough.

The second recommendation is that a successful language program has to be consistent and coherent among all organizations and educational sectors. The federal government can provide leadership in developing long term policies for enhanced teacher training, incentives for school districts to offer early language instruction, and conduct long term research on language education (Pufahl and Rhodes and Christian 16). Effective teaching strategies must be implemented such as foreign language as a medium of subject instruction, immersion or dual-language programs.

Foreign languages should have the same status as other core subjects such as math and reading and they should be carried through elementary to college (Pufahl and Rhodes and Christian 17). The third recommendation is enhanced teacher training. Based on the survey results, teacher training that integrates academic subject studies with pedagogical studies and teaching practice, was one of the most successful aspects of foreign language education in their respective countries (Pufahl and Rhodes and Christian 10).

The fourth recommendation is that educators need to take advantage of our ethnic diversity by promoting the learning of heritage languages. The United States is one of the world’s largest Spanish-speaking countries; however, we don’t capitalize on this powerful human resource or in any other heritage languages. The majority of public schools don’t offer programs for immigrant students to build on their home languages even when there’s a large group in the community who speaks the same language.

Promoting strong bilingual programs such as dual-immersion where half the students speak another language than English and both groups study together and become bilingual in both languages of instruction (Pufahl and Rhodes and Christian 19). A major change needs to happen in the United States in regards to foreign language education, from the national to local level. Besides personal and academic achievement, being proficient in foreign languages is extremely important for international trade, diplomacy, and national security.

It is important that the federal government creates a sizable budget for language education and establishes foreign language as a core subject. Educators and teachers should benefit from the country’s sociolinguistic context and promote bilingual programs that capitalize on heritage languages. Schools should create long term programs so that students can continue their foreign language education all the way to college if they so choose. Works Cited Campos, Jill. “Re: foreign languages in elementary schools. Message to the author. 04 Feb. 2012. Email. Hines, Marion E. “Foreign Language Curriculum Concerns in Times of Conflict. ” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin 70. 1 (2003): 15-21. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Larew, Leonor. “The Optimum Age for Beginning a foreign Language. ” Modern Language Journal 45. 5 (1961): 203. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. Meyers-Scotton, Carol. “Why Bilingualism Matters. ” American Speech 75. 3 (2000): 290-292. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 012. Pufahl, Ingrid, and Nancy Rhodes. “Foreign Language Instruction in U. S. Schools: Results of a National Survey of Elementary and Secondary Schools. ” Foreign Language Annals 44. 2 (2011): 258-288. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Pufahl, Ingrid, Christian Donna, and Nancy Rhodes. “Foreign Language Teaching: What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries. ” ERIC Clearing House on Languages and Linguistics (2000):1-35. Eric Digest. Web 18 Apr. 2012 (2011): 258-288.

Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Schick, Jo-Anne E. , and Paul B. Nelson. “Language Teacher Education: The Challenge for the Twenty-First Century. ” Clearing House 74. 6 (2001): 301-304. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Mar. 2012. Talukder, Gargi. How the Brain Learns a Second Language. 2001 Brain Connection. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. Zehr, Mary Ann. “Elementary Foreign Language Instruction on Descent. ” Education Week 28. 23 (2009):8-8. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Mar. 2012.

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