Language Teaching Around the World
Thailand, students begin learning English in the first grade.
French instruction now begins in the second grade for Moroccan
children. Non-native French speakers in Ontario start learning
French in the fourth grade. Yet, in the United States, despite
a growing interest in languages, most students are not introduced
to a foreign language until the age of 14.
is a growing awareness, even in the U.S., that English isn’t enough,”
says Dr. Ingrid Pufahl, a consultant at the Center for Applied
Linguistics (CAL) during a recent interview. While English continues
to dominate in the international sphere, monolingual English speakers
still find themselves at a disadvantage among their multilingual
you only speak English, you have to
wait until the other person lets you in on the communication,”
explains Pufahl. Language instruction in the early grades was
one of the top recommendations of an exploratory study commissioned
by the U.S. Department of Education. CAL researchers collected
data from 19 countries, asking experts to name the most successful
aspects of foreign language instruction in their countries. The
importance of an early start was one of the common threads among
Many of these countries also designate foreign languages as a
core academic subject, one often included in high school exit
exams. Others cited the importance of a “well-articulated framework”
in setting high standards for language instruction. Countries
belonging to the European Union, for example, use guides written
by the Council of Europe to promote fluency in two or even three
languages among their populations.
Fulfillment of these high standards requires good teachers and
many of the countries surveyed go to great lengths to provide
their students with the best language teachers available. In Finland,
teachers are recruited from among the top high school graduates
for admission to universities, where all teacher training takes
place. Due to the prestige of university studies,
as well as other factors such as pay and benefits, teachers are
some of Finland’s most highly regarded professionals.
Other countries, such as Morocco and Germany, also cite rigorous
teacher training as one of the most important aspects of successful
language instruction. In these countries, future teachers are
required to pursue university level studies in education as well
as the language that they will be teaching.
While, says Pufahl, “there is a certain reluctance in the U.S.
to accept research conducted elsewhere,” she also believes that
“you definitely can benefit from other’s experiences and then
adjust them to the specifics in the U.S..”
Looking to other English-speaking countries, which face similar
problems, might prove particularly helpful to U.S. educators.
However, “it is certainly not the case that the U.S. is a monolingual
country,” adds Pufahl. “You have about 40 to 50 million people
who do speak a foreign language.”
The report recommends that educators take advantage of our linguistic
diversity through instruction of the many languages spoken within
our borders. ESL students can learn English at the same time that
they maintain and improve their native language abilities. One
method is two-way immersion, in which equal numbers of, for example,
English and Spanish speaking children study together in a bilingual
environment, gaining fluency in both languages.
Options such as two-way immersion appeal to many parents who want
their children to have an edge when it comes to university admissions
and the workplace. Few people, however, realize that the benefits
are also developmental.
of the advantages of learning a second language at an early age
is cognitive,” says Pufahl. “It aids children’s mental development,
and helps them to better understand their own language.”#
Holmes, a senior at Columbia University is an editorial intern.
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