Do you want to give your children an edge? Make sure they speak more than one language – and the earlier, the better.
Kids who are exposed totwo languages from birth have an advantage over their single-language peers. The best practice is to have one parent consistently speaking English, and the other parent consistently speaking a second language to the child.
Alternatively, you might enlist someone in your extended family to speak regularly to your pre-school children in another language.
If these aren’t realistic possibilities, the next best option is to enroll your child in a Dual Language Immersion class. More and more elementary schools in Utah offer Dual Language Immersion; that is, half the day’s instruction is in English, the other half day is taught in Chinese, French, or Spanish – and now, Portuguese!
Young children can essentially acquire two or more “native” languages, but older children and adults have to layer the second language on top of their native language.
Gregg Roberts, the award-winning World Languages Specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, offers this list of proven benefits:
- Students achieve high proficiency in the immersion language.
- Immersion students perform as well as or better than non-immersion students on standardized tests of English and math administered in English.
- Immersion students develop greater cognitive flexibility and superior problem-solving skills.
- Students show more positive attitudes toward other cultures.
- Students are better prepared to become global citizens.
You can get more details about Dual Language Immersion in Utah, including the list of schools and a video overview, here: http://www.schools.utah.gov/curr/dualimmersion.
But, “Wait,” you say; “My children are already in middle school! What do I do now?” While it appears that there is an almost universal success rate in achieving dual-language fluency for young children, picking up a second language is still do-able for older children and adults. Brain imaging suggests learning a language is a somewhat different process for those who are older.
(Young children can essentially acquire two or more “native” languages, but older children and adults have to layer the second language on top of their native language.) However, the extra effort pays off. For example, foreign language adds a whole new skill set to any career area of study.
(More benefits are listed in “The Top Ten Reasons to Study a Foreign Language” offered by Weber State University http://www.forlang.wsu.edu/top10.asp). And the pay-offs continue even into old age. For instance, recent research suggests that speaking at least two languages may slow dementia in the aging brain. Sounds like a great multi-generational family learning project to me!
There are both personal and societal advantages to being multi-lingual. In the 2012 State of the State Address, Gov. Gary Herbert described our workforce as tech-savvy, highly-educated, bilingual, and industrious. Utah’s uniquely qualified workforce has translated into a real economic advantage.
Just last week, Utah was called the “Brightest Star in 2012” for job creation and retention. Gov. Herbert again took the opportunity to recognize the contribution of bilingual workers to delivering this economic advantage.
Kris Dobson is a Utah mom, grandmother, educator, and now a blogger. In her “Dear Parents” column on UtahPublicEducation.org, Dobson will provide educational tips and strategies to prepare children for success in school and in their lives after they graduate. You may contact her and submit your questions or suggestions for blog topics via email. As Kris says, “Let’s talk!”