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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Elementary Foreign Language

The Loundoun Schools Blog had these comments on foreign language in
elementary School. Their program is similar to District Threes except it
starts earlier. Loundaun Schools is in the Washington DC area.

1. What is the research underlying the FLES program?
There is extensive research on language acquisition and the advantages of
learning a language earlier rather than later. Some of the current research
supports the findings of previous studies. Here are a few recent findings:

a. Learning language at an early age is a brain booster -
Researchers from University College London studied the brains of 105
people - 80 of whom were bilingual. They found learning other languages
altered grey matter - the area of the brain which processes information - in
the same way exercise builds muscles.
People who learned a second language at a younger age were also more likely
to have more advanced grey matter than those who learned later. Lead
researcher Andrea Mechelli, of the Institute of Neurology at UCL, said the
findings explained why younger people found it easier to learn second

b. The sum of two languages is greater than the parts-
In the York University team's report, titled "Bilingualism, Biliteracy, and
Learning to Read: Interactions among Languages and Writing Systems," the
first advantage bilingual students possessed is that bilingual students
become used to thinking of more than one word relating to a given object
(for instance, "árbol" and "tree" both describing or representing the same
object), they are more sensitive to language as a system made up of distinct
sounds. This sensitivity can be transferred to reading as the child learns
to associate the letters in print with sounds.

c. Bilingual students don't have to reinvent the alphabet-
The second advantage the York University team found was "the potential for
transfer of reading principles across the languages," or the likely
possibility that children will take the methods and insights they've built
up in one language and apply them to advance much more rapidly in the other

d. Learning a new language teaches you more about your own language-
A child just setting out to learn a new language also learns many new things
about how languages work. For many older kids, knowledge of English grammar
is commonly solidified by learning a foreign language.

e. The National Commission on Excellence in Education has maintained that
achieving proficiency in a second world language takes from four to six
years of study, and is best begun in the elementary grades.

f. Recent research on the developing brain supports the initiation of
learning a second language during the early elementary school years in order
to take advantage of the natural process of language acquisition during this
"critical period of development."

g. Children have the ability to learn and excel in the pronunciation of a
foreign language (Krashen, et al. 1982).

h. Participation in early foreign language learning shows no sacrifice of
basic skills, but rather shows positive results in areas of standardized
testing. English, Language Arts, Math and SAT scores were shown to have
significant gains. (Rafferty, 1986; Garfinkel & Tabor, 1991; Armstrong &
Rogers, 1997)

i. Children who had studied a foreign language show greater cognitive
development in such areas as mental flexibility, creativity, divergent
thinking, and higher order thinking skills. (Landry, 1974; Hakuta, 1990)

j. Foreign language study has shown to enhance listening skills, memory and
a greater understanding of one's own language. (Lapkin, et al., 1990)

k. Children studying a foreign language have an improved self-concept and
sense of achievement in school. (Holobrow, et al., 1987; Caine & Caine,

l. Children who have studied a foreign language develop a sense of cultural
pluralism, openness and appreciation of other cultures. (Pesola, 1991;
Curtain, 1993; Met, 1995)

2. Would the same progress be made if FLES were only in grades 3-5?
No. Time is a critical component of language acquisition process. A review
of the research on early language learning indicates that bilingual and
monolingual children who begin the study of a second language at an early
age (ages 2- 9) and are enrolled in continuous, long-sequence program can
benefit in terms of mathematical and literacy development. However,
researchers find the highest correlation between second language development
and critical thinking and problem solving skills. The development of a
native-like accent (pronunciation and intonation) is also linked to a window
of opportunity or critical age, before age 9, to begin the study of a second

3. Why Does FLES focus on vocabulary and not grammar?
Grammar is introduced but not in the traditional sense. FLES is taught
utilizing what current research defines as best practice. The human brain
acquires language in this sequence: listening, speaking, reading, writing.
In a communicative environment, language is best acquired by first building
aural skills. In a contextualized form, grammar structures are used in the
development of these skills. Since many grammatical structures are patterns,
through continued exposure and use students begin to use these structures

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