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Porter 1 Reiley Porter Prof. James English 2010 18 November 2013

Get Them While They’re Young

With the emergence of incredible technology, it is fair to say people of today need to be more globally minded. In just seconds, two people from entirely different parts of the world can connect with each other and then communicate in many mediums such as images, videos, voice, and text. The United States has been called a “melting pot” of cultures and peoples, and this continues to be true. The likelihood of the typical student in the United States getting into a career that would require cultural understanding and even fluency in a foreign language is extremely high. Students who develop such skills will be very likely to use them to work a better job than would have been available to them without those skills. Something more must be done to prepare children for the culturally diverse world they will be working in. All students should be introduced students to foreign language as early as elementary school in order to create students that are more globally marketable as well as provide students with critical thinking skills useful in all academic subjects. Quickly, the definition of foreign language study must be given. Durham describes an emphasis on “teaching language not as communication but language as culture.” This would include traditional focus on vocabulary and usage, but also accent the relation between language and culture. It would focus on letting students see how limitations in language affect different


Porter 2 cultures. This is the method of foreign language education being advocated in this essay. Elementary school refers to the grades K-6. Such a system of foreign language education should be implemented in elementary schools in order to be most effective. In many elementary schools in the United States, there are foreign language programs already in place. Some of these programs are extremely intensive and the children learn all their subjects in another language. Some are as simple as a brief introduction to many different languages and cultures in elementary. The need for cultural awareness has been recognized by many educational institutions. Gorman says, “Most universities and colleges now require students to take at least one “multicultural” or “diversity” course that is supposed to explore the notion of cultural difference.” If this “exploration” were to happen sooner in the lives of American students, it would have a better chance of success. Laird and Engberg summarize the results of many studies of effectiveness of university required diversity course: “the results were mixed, with some studies showing substantial gains in student outcomes related to the reduction of racial bias and others showing mixed or nonsignificant changes in students’ feelings about different racial groups” (119). Radloff says another study “found that completing more than one diversity course can improve racial attitudes.” While there is not substantial evidence to prove the success of the university diversity programs, it is obvious that it is much harder to change the minds of those already engrained in a single way of thought. Introduction to diversity in elementary school would reduce the number of incorrect preconceptions students have about other cultures long before they get to a university. The early introduction of language in elementary schools has been proven to produce students that have much better pronunciation (Stewart; Gorman). They are capable of speaking more natively in the foreign language because it has been taught right alongside their actual


Porter 3 native language. The same will be true with cultural understanding. If these students are introduced to other cultures this early, their understanding of our global society will be deeply rooted. Cultural awareness and mastery of foreign language are not the only benefits found in the early introduction of this kind of language study. According to Stewart, “Children who study a foreign language tend to develop new perspectives and depth of understanding about the vocabulary and structure of their first language” (14). I know this to be true. In elementary school, we learned Spanish every Thursday. This helped me understand more words in English, because I became familiar with the language that many English words came from. It also became easier to dissect large words with unknown meanings once I had the basics of two languages to assist me. Learning about the conjugation of verbs in Spanish helped me to see the reason “I says” or “he say” aren’t correct. When given a new way to understand things I previously did not, I had the opportunity to work on other critical skills. Stewart explains, “Children who study a second language are more creative and better problem solvers than students who do not study a second language” (13). The reason for this is unmistakable. These children have already been exposed to the idea that there is more than one way to do something (or to say something). This exposure helps them to look for the less obvious, and sometimes better, way to solve a problem. It should be said that the information these students learn so early may not stick. They may never care to speak fluently in the language they are introduced to. They may not even choose to lead a life where their cultural knowledge would be useful, although this is getting more and more difficult to do. These are both risks of such an early introduction to foreign language, but the other benefits outweigh these risks. Porter states, “failure to develop full fluency in both a mother language and a second language results in a waste of human capital and


Porter 4 potential.� However, if the benefits of being fluent or culturally-minded are taken away, there are still plenty of reasons, such as increased cognitive ability or problem-solving skills, to educate elementary students in foreign language. Fluency is not necessary for this educational strategy to be effective. Foreign language education should be introduced in elementary schools in order to help students become globally marketable. A method of teaching “language as culture� (Durham) would also help students in all academic areas by giving them critical thinking and problem solving skills. It is necessary to give students these tools for the diverse society we live in today especially thanks to technology. It is also important to understand that fluency is not necessarily the goal. The simple action of studying and using a foreign language will give young students increased problem-solving skills and help them understand their first language better. Teaching them while very young will be a more effective way to introduce them to diversity than teaching them at the university level. If implemented, this foreign language study would enrich the lives of all children who participated and potentially give them the tools and knowledge to make the most of global communication opportunities.


Porter 5 Works Cited Durham, Carolyn A. “Language as Culture.� The French Review 54.2 (1980): 219-24. JSTOR. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. Gorman, Carma R. "Why Designers Should Study Foreign Languages." Design Issues 20.1 (2004): 40-7. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. Laird, Thomas F. Nelson, and Mark E. Engberg. "Establishing Differences between Diversity Requirements and Other Courses with Varying Degrees of Diversity Inclusivity." JGE: The Journal of General Education 60.2 (2011): 117-37. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. Porter, Catherine. "Presidential Address 2009: English Is Not Enough." PMLA: Publications Of The Modern Language Association of America 125.3 (2010): 546-55. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. Radloff, Timothy D. Levonyan. "College Students' Perceptions of Equal Opportunity for African Americans and Race-Based Policy: Do Diversity Course Requirements Make A Difference." College Student Journal 44.2 (2010): 558-64. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. Stewart, Janice Hostler. "Foreign Language Study in Elementary Schools: Benefits and Implications for Achievement in Reading and Math." Early Childhood Education Journal 33.1 (2005): 11-6. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.


Foreign Language Education