Foreign languages ​​should be taught in elementary school [column] | Local Voices

Children are naturally very curious. And that’s what makes them so teachable.

Pennsylvania public elementary schools should use the time leading up to age 8, when studies show children have the highest ability to learn important life skills. One way the state education system could help children improve these skills would be to include foreign language programs in our elementary schools.

During elementary school, the human brain is perfectly primed to learn more than one language. According to researchers at Michigan State University, “Young learners up to age 8 benefit from flexible ear and speech muscles that can identify differences between the sounds of a second language.”

Personally, I think it would have been easier for me to learn a second language in elementary school than in high school. I’m studying German this year and there are so many things about this language that differ from English in terms of grammar and sentence mechanics. If I had started this language earlier, I would have had an easier time learning all these different parts of the German language.

Statistics also show that learning a second language in primary school can improve so-called executive functioning.

“People who speak two languages ​​often outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive functioning,” said linguist Antonella Sorace.

Executive function encompasses many skills, including the ability to plan, pay attention, multitask, and remember directions. These attributes can help make wise decisions.

Improving executive function in elementary school would have significant payoffs for children once they reach high school. Studies have shown that becoming bilingual from an early age can boost English language skills and even improve social studies and math performance.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education itself states, “Students enrolled in a world language program in elementary schools have shown improvements in: pronunciation in first and second languages, higher scores on standardized tests, listening comprehension, and cognitive development.”

But even knowing this, the state Department of Education has opted not to mandate foreign language courses in public elementary schools.

However, Pennsylvania high schools are required to offer at least two different language courses. This comes at a time when, in many ways, these courses are being offered far too late to be of much benefit to anyone.

And even though the state requires high schools to offer foreign languages, too many students in too many schools don’t need to complete a single level of a foreign language to graduate.

If studies in Pennsylvania have shown that becoming bilingual from an early age benefits society, why not focus on something that enables students to grow into more independent, productive members of society?

Abigail Commander is a 10th grader at Garden Spot High School.