Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Should children be taught a second language?
Every child in school should learn at least one foreign language. Besides the practical benefits of being able to converse with someone from another land and possibly a different culture, the process will develop thinking skills and improve memory.
The lessons should begin early, and during the primary years, they should be mostly oral. The children need to assimilate the sounds, the inflections, and the rhythm of words and phrases in the new language. This can be accomplished almost unconsciously by the very young child.
The teacher begins by teaching simple concepts: the days of the week, counting to ten, and the names of objects around the classroom. She will say the words and have the children repeat them. After the students become accustomed to sounds of their new tongue, they can proceed to more difficult vocabulary.
It is important to have teachers who are fluent in the new language. Children are amazing mimics. If the teachers speaks the language with an English accent, it is certain that the students will also. It is best, whenever possible, to hire a teacher who is a recent immigrant, and a native of the country where the new language is spoken.
It is also important that the parents have an opportunity to choose the second language their child will be taught. You will then have family interest and support for the educational program, a vital element in assuring the child's success.
Since Canada is officially a bilingual country, every child, except those in Quebec, has to learn French. This was a government decision and is not popular with many parents.
Strangely enough, students in Quebec are not compelled to learn English. In fact, they are only allowed to attend an English school if one of the parents has English as a first language.
When one of my tutoring students receives a report card, I like to review it with the parent, to determine the area in which to concentrate lessons for the next term. Often the child will have a low mark in French. The parent's reaction is usually: "Oh, I don't care about that; it's only French." Parental input into the choice of the second language is vital.
Often the disinterest is understandable. Our area has many children of Italian descent. They may have difficulty speaking to their grandparents and other relatives in Italian, and if they were to study that language, it would be of much more use to them. The parents would wholeheartedly support the program, and see to it that the children got the necessary practice at home. They would also be able to ensure that the child received help with homework in the later grades when it was assigned.
When I was teaching, the children would often ask me for help with their French assignments. Since it had been years since I had taken the subject, with no opportunity to practice in the intervening time, I was unable to help. I'd ask them if they knew any French-speaking people they could consult, and answer usually was, "Only the French teacher, and she's left for the day."
In choosing a second language, it is very helpful if the child has some ongoing contact with persons who can speak to him in that tongue, can help him with assignments, and give him pointers about the maxims and platitudes peculiar to that language. Unless he has the opportunity to practice his new tongue through frequent use, he will soon forget it.
In today's world, with instant communication, and widespread travel, we humans come into contact with people of other lands, other cultures, and speaking foreign languages, much more frequently than in former times. Today's children will be called upon to reach out and embrace the world. Becoming fluent in a second language during their school years is a worthwhile place to start.