Early language learning has significant advantages

In order to graduate, every student is required to take two years of a foreign language. Some students will choose to continue on and take four, or even five years of their language. I was one of those who decided to take four years of Spanish, and although I have become proficient in understanding the language, I cannot help but imagine how much better I would be at Spanish if I had been speaking it my whole life.

I am jealous of anyone who grew up with two languages, because their ability to communicate in both languages is incomparable to that of someone who has just been exposed to the language in high school.

I always laugh at the fact that the concepts we learn in the first few years of foreign language, the concepts that we struggle to understand and remember, are the concepts that an elementary student would be learning in a Spanish speaking school. We fail to grasp the idea of the preterite (Spanish past tense), yet we learned the past, present, and future tense of English in first grade.

In “Why Is it Easier for a Child to Learn a New Language Than an Adult,” Sharon Perkins explains that young children unconsciously pick up languages in the first few years of their lives, whereas adults have to consciously work and study to learn a language.

However, she explains, for a child to learn a foreign language, they must be constantly exposed to it. By including foreign language in elementary education, we would be incorporating it into our everyday lives, increasing the exposure and amount of practice that children receive.

So why not teach foreign language in elementary school? If students learned two languages starting in first grade, not only would it be much easier for students to learn, but they would have 12 years of practice in the language by the time they graduated high school. I believe that this would increase students’ fluency dramatically.

In addition, learning foreign language has been proven to help students in other areas as well. It improves students’ multitasking skills, memory, self-confidence, and can even improve their first language skills. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages even states that learning a foreign language helps students to develop a more positive view of the speakers of that language.

Learning a foreign language also sets students up for a better future. Fluently speaking two languages opens up a world of new career opportunities and makes it much easier to learn a third language.

After 4 years, we like to think that we speak our language pretty well, but we’ve barely scraped the surface. I thought I knew Spanish, but when I interact with a native speaker, I still feel like I am in a tornado of speech and words are just flying past me as I get swept away in confusion. It’s not just that I’m lacking skill, but I’m lacking confidence and experience. I can only imagine where I would be with 12 years of speaking experience versus four.

I will forever be salty that I did not learn Spanish as a young child. Every time I mix up por and para, I have detailed daydreams about the amazing and simple life I would be living if I had grown up with a foreign language. But since I cannot change this about my past, I will do what I can to make sure that future generations of students don’t have to live with the regret of only speaking English.

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