Kids can Learn Foreign Languages too

Olivia Arnold, Special to The Big Red

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Foreign language courses often seem like an afterthought in the American education system. In 2015 only about 20% of K-12 students were enrolled in foreign language classes and the numbers plunge when looking solely at elementary schools.

Language exposure to young kids is critical to future success, yet we are denying kids that chance. It should be mandatory in the United States for foreign language education to start in elementary school.

While it certainly is possible to learn a language at any age, it has been proven that the optimal period to learn the foundations of a foreign language ends at around age 10. During this period developing brains seek language and are actively using the skills needed to eventually become fluent.

American schools typically start teaching a foreign language in middle school, when this period is just ending.

By changing the system and providing students with earlier opportunities they will be able to expand their knowledge when they get to the higher levels. Instead of cramming language information at a later age students will be able to learn basics as a child, leaving the later years for more technical advancements.

Foreign language education at a young age also helps non-language academics, as language learners perform better on critical thinking standardized tests. With the importance of such tests such as the SATs and ACTs, those who have a whole school career worth of language learning will have an increased chance of higher academic success.

All statistical evidence aside, elementary school students are young and impressionable. Teaching them to embrace the languages of others will instill ideas of cultural acceptance and normalize diversity.

In modern society, this is an extremely important trait to teach the world’s future leaders. Early foreign language education can also start to build bridges between young children of different ethnicities and language backgrounds.

Other countries around the world have already recognized the advantages of early language learning.

In Germany, students begin learning English in third grade through exposure to songs and poems. Finland and Poland start foreign language education at seven years old.

This contrasts starkly to our policy in the United States which lacks uniformity and allows each state to set individual guidelines. These other countries show that on the world stage the United States is an anomaly. The educational system is abetting the normalization of cultural ignorance.

The United States is falling behind in creating worldly, educated citizens. Failing to institute a system of K-12 language learning in public schools is a missed opportunity and one that affects the most susceptible demographic of society, children.

Foreign language learning in elementary schools will help children develop advantageous academic skills and guide them in becoming knowledgeable, bilingual adults with an eagerness for language and cultural learning.