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In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children may derive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills. Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive advantage in the workforce by opening up additional job opportunities. Students of foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged 4 or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied 4 or more years in any other subject area. In addition, the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken 4 or more years of foreign language study was identical to the average score of those who had studied 4 years of mathematics. These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous years.
Students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures. Some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems. The benefits to society are many. Americans fluent in other languages enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication, and maintain our political and security interests.
Excerpted from the ERIC/CLL parent brochure Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language?
Numerous resources are available on the subject of early language learning. The following digests, minibibs, books, and Web sites may be helpful.
Foreign Language Exploratory Programs
Foreign Language Immersion Programs
Foreign Language Requirements and Students with Learning Disabilities
Foreign Languages and International Business
Guidelines for Starting an Elementary School Foreign Language Program
Middle Schools and Foreign Languages: A View for the Future
K–12 Foreign Language Education. The ERIC Review, Volume 6, Number 1 (Fall 1998). This issue covers foreign language education at the elementary and secondary school level and includes timely articles of interest to educators, policymakers, parents, and others. Print copies may be ordered from ACCESS ERIC (telephone number: 1-800-538-3742).
Why, How, and When Should My Child Learn a Second Language is a brochure for parents prepared by ERIC/CLL and distributed by ACCESS ERIC. It answers a number of critical questions parents have about early foreign language learning, including the following:
Curtain, H. (1993.) An Early Start: A Resource Book for Elementary School Foreign Language. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Available from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service. ERIC Document No. ED 353 849.
Curtain, H.; Pesola, C.A.B. (1994.) Languages and Children: Making the Match. Foreign Language Instruction for an Early Start, Grades K–8. (Second Edition.) White Plains, New York: Longman. 494p.
Met, M. (1998). Critical Issues in Early Second Language Learning. Glenview, IL: Addison-Wesley. 339p. ISBN Number needed for ordering: ISBN O-673-58919-6. K–12 teachers may call 1-800-552-2259; postsecondary teachers call 1-800-322-1377; all others call 1-800-822-6339). This professional resource book provides state of the art insights and information about second language study in the elementary school.
The German Language School Conference (GLSC) is the national organization for private German language schools in the United States. GLSC represents its member-schools and their interests concerning German language and culture and serves as a forum for pedagogical, administrative, legal, social, and other concerns.
Ñandutí is an excellent resource on foreign language learning in grades K–8. Major topics covered at this site include Frequently Asked Questions, Foreign Language Standards, Resources for early language learning, Model Programs, and Teacher Development.
National Network for Early Language Learning. NNELL is dedicated to promoting foreign language instruction for all students, kindergarten through 8th grade, and to supporting educators who teach those students.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. ACTFL supports foreign language teaching and learning through numerous professional activities, including a yearly conference, programs for language professionals, workshops, a Certified Testing Program for language proficiency testing.
FLTEACH FAQs. Sponsors of the major listserv for foreign language teachers answer numerous teacher-oriented questions.
Advocates for Language Learning, Tom Horn, President: (310) 313-3333
National FLES* Institute (Gladys Lipton): Office (410) 455-2109; Home (301) 231-0824.
FLTEACH. The major listserv for foreign language teachers is FLTEACH. For subscription information, contact the FLTEACH Web site.
A sampling of major conferences attended by foreign language professionals follows below.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
Pacific Northwest Council on Foreign Languages.
Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT).
To find out where to search the ERIC database in your community, call (1-800-276-9834) or email our User Services staff.
You may wish to search the ERIC database on the World Wide Web.
Information on retrieving documents from the database follows this section.
The search results below were retrieved by using the following combination of descriptors:
Second Language Learning
FLES or Elementary Education or Young Children
Educational Benefits or Cognitive Development or Academic Achievement.
Optimal Age Revisited--A Piagetian Perspective. Tsakonas, Frances
The controversy over the optimal age for learning a second language is discussed, examining, from the perspective of Piagetian theory: (1) the argument which suggests that children have an advantage in language learning; and (2) the arguments which states that adults have an advantage in language learning. The first part provides an overview of the short- and long-term studies on child/adult differences that have led to the controversy, and points out some of the problems inherent in carrying out such studies. In part two, the major factors that have been suggested to account for age differences in second language learning are outlined. It is then argued that these factors fail to satisfactorily account for the differences between younger and older learners in both learning rate and ultimate attainment, thus biasing conclusions about optimal age; a resulting "disequilibrium model" of language learning is proposed. This model attempts, through application of the Piagetian concept of equilibration, to find a common ground on which the results of both long- and short-term studies can be examined collectively. It is concluded that determinations of optimal age in second language learning are incidental rather than substantive. A 65-item bibliography is included. (MSE)
Interaction between Bilingualism and Cognitive Growth. Van Groenou, Meher.
Montessori Life, v5 n1 p33-35 Win 1993
The author examines the relationship between young children's use of two languages and their cognitive development. He discusses the simultaneous and sequential acquisition of two languages; theories on cognition and language; and studies on the effects of bilingualism and offers strategies for creating an effective language learning environment for young children.
Should International Languages Be Part of the School Curriculum? Goossen, Tam.
Mosaic, v1 n3 p19 Spr 1994
A member of the Toronto Board of Education argues that exposure to international languages in elementary school constitutes an important part of a forward-looking, up-to-date educational system. He maintains that the learning of a second or third language has positive social and economic benefits.
A Second Language in the Classroom; Are We Missing the Boat? Selman, Ruth.
Montessori Life, v5 n1 p31-32 Win 1993
In the context of an increasingly interdependent world society, there are benefits to early acquisition of a second language for American children. Benefits cited include the ease of learning a second language at an early age, improved abilities in concept formation, greater cognitive flexibility, and appreciation of cultural diversity. Second language programs in the classroom are also discussed.
An Early Beginning: Why Make an Exception of Languages? Lee, William R.
In the twentieth century, both the need and the opportunities for acquiring a foreign language have greatly increased. However, even today, foreign language instruction has not been firmly established worldwide as an essential element of basic education. In Great Britain, enthusiasm for foreign language instruction has risen and fallen repeatedly. Currently, there is an acute shortage of trained language teachers. Insularity, coupled with reliance on English in foreign countries, has caused foreign language learning to be neglected. Although the situation is improving, it is worst in the elementary schools, for economic and political reasons. Early second language instruction is desirable for several reasons: (1) it increases the number of years in which the language can be learned at school; (2) young children are able to learn a foreign language and enjoy it, and may be better at learning pronunciation; (3) if the teaching is appropriate, children discover that learning another language is within their capacity, and this knowledge strengthens their motivation; and (4) second language learning reduces ethnocentricity and creates a more international outlook and better understanding of people who speak other languages.
Bilingualism and Cognitive Development: Three Perspectives and Methodological Implications. Hakuta, Kenji; And Others.
The relationship between bilingualism and cognitive development is explored as an exemplary area in which the disciplinary concerns of cognitive psychology, social psychology, and sociology occur together. A historical review of research shows that many of the apparently contradictory findings about the effects of bilingualism on mental development have stemmed from a failure to distinguish between levels of bilingualism as defined by the three different research orientations. The literature within each of the disciplines is discussed and the implications for a more rigorous definition of bilingualism are outlined, based on research undertaken in a bilingual education program in New Haven, Connecticut. There are 69 references listed.
The Effect of Age on Acquisition of a Second Language for School. Collier, Virginia P.
Research on second language learning suggests that age or age-related factors are a major variable in the acquisition of a second language for school. In the early stages of acquisition, older students are faster and more efficient learners, with the advantage of more advanced cognitive development in the first language. This early advantage diminishes after the first year of second language learning for adults, but remains for older children and adolescents. Adolescents past puberty are likely to retain an accent but are capable of developing complete second language proficiency. When schooled only in the second language, students in the 8- to-12-year range on arrival may be the most advantaged learners of school skills in the second language. Older students have less time to make up lost years of academic instruction easily. The effect of age diminishes over time as the learner becomes more proficient in the second language. Differences are generally found through the first five years after arrival. It takes language minority students in any type of program a minimum of four years to reach native speakers' level of school language proficiency and may take eight or more years, depending on a variety of factors.
Ultimate Attainment in Second Language Acquisition. Birdsong, David.
Language, v68 n4 p706-55 Dec 1992.
In the prevailing view of ultimate attainment in second language acquisition, native competence cannot be achieved by postpubertal learners. This study offers convergent experimental evidence that suggests exceptions to this generalization.
Maturational Constraints on Language Development. Long, Michael H.
Studies in Second Language Acquisition, v12 n3 p251-85 Sep 1990
Reviews the second-language research on age-related differences, drawing conclusions regarding learning-age influence on initial acquisition rate and ultimate attainment level; sensitive periods of language development; cumulative age-related loss in ability; and the adequacy of affective, input, and current cognitive explanations for reduced ability.
Age and Accent in a Second Language: A Reply to James Emil Flege. Patkowski, Mark.
Applied Linguistics, v11 n1 p73-89 Mar 1990
Arguments raised against the Critical Period Hypothesis of second language learning are refuted. It is suggested both that sufficient research evidence exists to support the hypothesis and that the hypothesis was not represented accurately or contradicted convincingly in the criticisms.
The Relationship between Starting Age and Second Language Learning.
Griffin, Glenda Gillespie. May 1993
A study examined the relationship between the age at which children started second language learning and their achievement by the end on high school. Subjects were 26 native English-speaking private school seniors. Half had begun French language study in grades K-4 (early starters) and half in grades 5-8 (late starters). Language skills were measured using two standardized French language achievement and advanced placement (AP) tests. Statistical analyses of test results indicate no systematic relationship between starting time and achievement test scores, nor any between AP test scores for the early starters. There was a moderate inverse relationship between AP test scores and late starting. Overall, early starting appeared to have very little influence on increasing second language proficiency by the end of high school in this population.
The full text of most materials in the ERIC database with an "ED" followed by six digits is available through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS) in microfiche, by email, or in paper copy form. About 80 percent of ERIC documents from 1993 to the present are available for online ordering and electronic delivery through the EDRS Web site . You can read ERIC documents on microfiche for free at many libraries with monthly subscriptions or specialized collections. To find an ERIC center near you, contact our User Services staff.
The full text of journal articles may be available from one or more of the following sources:
To obtain journals that do not permit reprints and are not available from your library, write directly to the publisher. Addresses of publishers are listed in the front of each issue of Current Index to Journals in Education and can now be accessed online through the CIJE Source Journal Index.
If you would like additional information about this or any topic related to language learning, linguistics, or cultural education, contact our User Services Staff.
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