Chinese Language Gains Popularity in U.S. Elementary Schools
Capability:Mom sent me this link from The Wall Street Journal by Yuliya Chernovaas she knows that I’m a huge proponent of exposing children to foreign languages at an early age. But not everyone agrees. Here’s the perspective of parents in New York City. It appears that foreign language curriculum is a politically charged hot potato.
I have excerpted two comments:
- “But is it really necessary for a child at the age of 5 to be taught some random language? I can think of 10 other things that could be done with that time.”
- “anyone who has tried to teach toddlers a foreign language that no one in their household speaks (inc nanny) will realize that the classes are just not enough – you need to either live there and immerse or have the immersion at home for it to take hold.”
And here are some excerpts from a research paper, First- and Second- Language Acquisition in Early Childhood by Beverly A. Clark. The pdf is here.
- Most children in the world learn to speak two languages. Bilingualism is present in just about every country around the world, in all classes of society, and in all age groups (Grosjean, 1982; McLaughlin, 1984).
- In the United States monolingualism traditionally has been the norm. Bilingualism was regarded as a social stigma and liability (McLaughlin, 1984, p. 3). Language represents culture, and the bilingual person is often a member of a minority group whose way of thinking and whose values are unfamiliar to the majority. Language is something we can identify and try to eradicate without showing our distrust and fear of others (McLaughlin, 1984).
- Even those who begin to learn a second language in childhood may always have difficulty with pronunciation, rules of grammar, and vocabulary, and they may never completely master the forms or uses of the language. There is no simple way to explain why some people are successful at second-language learning and some are not.
- McLaughlin notes that ultimate retention of two languages depends on a large number of factors, such as the prestige of the languages, cultural pressures, motivation, opportunities of use but not on age of acquisition (McLaughlin, 1984, p. 73).
As for my children, we don’t have foreign languages at part of our public elementary school curriculum. My kids are learning Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. We speak neither at home. Only their grandmothers are alive and one speaks Japanese, the other Korean. Why Mandarin for us? I figured that it’s such a difficult yet useful language that it was best to start early. I started them on Spanish first because it’s less difficult and widely spoken where we live. It was the warm up. Once they seemed to tolerate Spanish, I threw in Mandarin Chinese just to see if it would fly. My goals are very different from these parents in The Wall Street Journal. You can’t expect fluency when your children get a half an hour or so of instruction a week. Come on! Could you learn a language that way?
Instead, I focus on two areas: correct pronunciation and conversation. NOT grammar. My hope is that by starting very young, they will get an intuitive sense for language that words can be said many different ways and it’s not always a word for word translation. My take on foreign languages: It’s the Gift That Keeps on Giving. I notice that while it may take conversational skills to open career doors, it only takes a few words to open hearts.