The benefits of foreign language instruction for students are many and varied. Many questions that may be asked regarding this issue include “When, or at what age, should instruction in foreign language begin?”; “How should this instruction happen?”; “What languages would be of the most benefit for our students?”; “Would we need native speakers of the languages to teach these languages?”; and “In what ways would our students benefit from this instruction?”
This article does not intend to answer all of these questions definitively. However, this article will address the issue of benefits and how these languages might be taught.
One of the primary benefits of of language learning or exposure for young children is that their brain synapses and abilities to make and distinguish a wide variety of sounds would all remain more flexible for far longer. If we can keep the category of potential sounds that a child is capable of manipulating varied, then that child will be better able to become proficient in a foreign language later in life. Additionally, keeping those synapses in the brain more flexible can be of major benefit as the child learns and gains knowledge. Often information can be stored and accessed more readily for these students. Studies have shown that children with exposure to multiple languages from a very young age perform at a higher level in many areas later in life. Furthermore, when the word ‘exposure’ is used, this does not mean drilling or any kind of formal instruction, but rather organic experiences with the languages in question. Children’s videos, songs and even books do the trick.
A second issue to consider is how these languages might be taught. Clearly that is going to depend on the objectives of the course, the students’ needs, abilities and ages, and the resources available to the instructing entity. Ideally, starting at a young age, a person who speaks the target language at a native or near-native level is going to the be the instructor, and they will use age-appropriate material. Namely, songs and games keep the instruction organic and natural. This keeps the experience relaxed and natural, reducing childrens’ fears of being ostracized for participating. As a child ages and his or her abilities increase, books and other media in the target language should serve as the text from which instruction sprouts. Furthermore, a child’s own experiences and questions can serve as the springboard for language experiences.
A final benefit of foreign language instruction is that a good foreign language classroom should inherently include cultural exposure and lessons. As a nation, we need to be more educated and aware of the diverse cultures and histories that make up the world around us and the people we deal with. Language instruction is a natural jumping-off point for these kinds of experiences.
To conclude, we do not want to continue to demonize our own country and system and deify all things European or Asian. However, these other regions have been requiring language instruction for some years already, and it has done them some good. We do not need to feel as if we are in a competition, but education truly is the solution to many of the problems of our nation. Well-rounded, instructed students who are not shooting for some standard that is in essence the lowest common denominator (No Child Left Behind) will become leaders and citizens that take our nation down the road of solutions, rather than the dead-end of too-belabored mistakes.