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Middle school students should be required to learn a foreign language.
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It is difficult for students in the United States to learn a foreign language because they don't have any real conversations in daily life with which to practice. I learned Spanish in high school and college. I can read the basics and understand it that way, but there's no way I could have a conversation because I never practiced it with native speakers. However, when I lived in Slovenia for a year and a half, I took an 8-week course that gave me the basic tasks and grammar for the language and still couldn't really speak until I got there and started having real conversations with people in the language. The fact that I knew that I'd HAVE to learn that language in order to live there motivated me to concentrate and study harder. With students so young, they won't see the value of learning another language unless they knew for a fact that they were going to have actual conversations in that language at some point in their lives. Speaking a foreign language helps one to understand his/her own native language and has many benefits to its achievement. But it's difficult to learn if there is no use for it in sight.
Whilst it is true that teaching a foreign language can be a non-starter (post #2) when resources are not available or teachers are simply not proficient enough to teach it, the benefits of starting young are immense.
Noam Chomsky maintained that the human brain has a built-in language acquisition device, or LAD, that analyzes the parts of speech in the language that a child hears.
He found that this concept applies across cultural differences and relates to many different languages. This is "nativism" and children
have neural circuits that are genetically programmed to acquire language.
In other words, we are built to receive, understand and communicate language and it is mainly opportunity that allows some people to acquire more languages than their own. This obvioulsy does not allow for any skill indicators or difficulty level and there are those amongst us who have a natural ability for languages. The potential is there though in all of us.
In South Africa - where education is at a premium and there are still young people who cannot read and write- language is a huge factor. Although there are many who do not even speak English ( a large immigrant population), many, children especially, speak their home language such as Zulu or Tswana and English and these are not necessarily educated - so their teachers are parents, grandparents and community members. Obviously grammar and the written word escape their level of understanding but it does show that it is certainly possible - and even necessary - to encourage second language learning as young as possible. These children will have other problems to worry about when they enter the school system so even a basic understanding of a second language is beneficial.
Many learners in SA must learn in English (or Afrikaans) because there are not enough qualified teachers to teach all the subjects in their own language, their "mother tongue." There is a drive currently to ensure that children - up to age 12- are taught in their own language as the language of instruction, but it will take years for this to come to fruition. Please bear in mind that there are 11 official languages in SA, although many of the "African" languages are dialects and can be vaguley understood by others.
Sorry to digress but as post#4 refers, English is almost a universal language and, lazy as that makes us, we are at a disadvantage if we don't teach younger children a foreign language.
Factually, the younger a child is, the easier it is to master two or more languages. Many average 3 to 4 year olds in SA can speak English and a second language, often Afrikaans fluently - without mixing their languages and, after nursery rhymes etc, they are far better equipped to learn the second language formally on entering school. The school system includes poetry, short stories and analysis from about age 11 when the basics are already been entrenched.
Children with language difficulties and disorders sometimes display psychological problems due to the fact that we are programmed to receive and understand language and cannot comprehend language deficiencies.
So, yes to middles school and a definite yes to younger than that if possible. It can only contribute to the "Global Village."
As technology expands, it is going to become increasingly easy for persons from different countries to come into contact for personal and professional reasons. Along with learning the languages of other countries, we should also be teaching our children (and learning ourselves) how to relate to the different cultures of other parts of the world. With increasing numbers of immigrants coming to the United States, with easier business connections with companies around the world, with the internet and social media facilitating communications with other parts of the world, international sensitivities and respect for other cultures needs to become a part of everyone's education.
Aside from all these considerations, research has shown many ways in which the skills and processes involved in learning a second language translate to benefit learning in other areas.
Americans need to let go of their feelings of global superiority when it comes to learning foreign languages. As mentioned in the previous post, English is spoken as a second language by much of the world, and many European countries require their students to take TWO foreign languages in school. I used to visit Holland regularly, and I rarely came upon a Dutch citizen who couldn't speak some English. I think all students--college prep and non-collegiate aspirants--should be required to learn a foreign language, and what better place to start than in middle school--or even in the upper grades of elementary school.
Whenever international sports programs are broadcast--tennis, skiing, ice skating, the Olympics, countless athletes, ranging from European, to Asian, to Arabic, to African--even those from small and/or remote countries--can speak English. But, in the United States students are not proficient in any language besides their own until they are junior or seniors in high school, or, more than likely, in college.
Perhaps there is more motivation to learn English than there is for other languages. But, even if a student does wish to learn a foreign language, he/she usually must wait until high school. While the arguments against instruction in Middle School being implausible because there are not enough foreign language teachers, nor are there the financial funds to support foreign language instruction in middle school are viable ones, there should be some form of introduction to foreign languages before students are in high school. This type of instruction can be done without a foreign language teacher per se. All that needs to be done is have some time set aside for some rudimentary instruction in the English class, or some other course, provided that the teacher is versed in a language.
Drawing from personal experience as a foreign language teacher, students who came into my high school class, who had been exposed to the target language in grade school or middle school with songs and limmericks, games, etc., learned so much more quickly and had a much more positive attitude towards the acquisition of the language. Their small exposure was truly a positive one and one that enabled them to attain more success in their serious study of the language. Early exposure works!
Although my ability to speak foreign langauges is something I am proud of, I am not sure that it is a good idea to require middle school students to take a foreign language unless they are really going to be able to do it right.
My main problem with it is that it would be very difficult to get enough teachers who would be able to do a good job. I do not think it helps middle schoolers much to learn to read or write a few phrases. I think that language learning only really helps if you are truly learning the language. What we would be more likely to end up with is something like they have with English language education in Japan -- lots of teachers who don't really speak the language trying to teach students,
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