Language Immersion, Especially Early On, Helps Kids

An article by The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages called “Cognitive Benefits of Learning Language” purports that the learning of a second language at an early age triggers the child’s natural curiosity during the learning process.  This heightened engagement helps the student learn the language proficiently and with near native pronunciation and intonation.

Theresa Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL), (www.nnell.org)  states, “Children who learn a foreign language beginning in early childhood demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not.”  Some of those advantages are understanding object permanence, problem solving, greater critical thinking skills and increased creativity.  “There is also a relationship between foreign language study and increased mathematical skill development.”

In the same article, Martha G. Abbott, the Director of Education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), (www.actfl.org) says that immersion programs work because the learning of the second language is a tool, a vehicle, for content for general education curriculum.  Consequently, two things are accomplished: the student learns content (for example – math) and the second language.

Abbott also insists that all students can learn a second language in this way.  Some students will have a natural talent for learning language and learn it quickly.  But all students will benefit from the program.

The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL, www.cal.org) article “What Parents Want to Know About Foreign Language Immersion Programs” states that Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. Schools.

Here, Tara W. Fortune and Diane J. Tedick claim that the experience of having to pay closer attention to the teachers non-verbal cues makes the student think harder.  The effect?  Three decades of studies show that immersion students consistently test as well or better than students in non-immersion schools.

Language immersion schools are not new.   The obvious benefit to a language immersion school is the acquisition of a second language.  Spoken, written and read.  In addition to that, the knowledge and appreciation of another culture.

The surprise benefits include a better understanding of the child’s native language, the cognitive ability to transfer skills from one language to another and increased flexibility and creativity.  There is also that connection between language learning and higher scores on standardized academic testing, especially in math, which draws us like moths to a flame.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.