Twenty-five percent of all elementary schools offer foreign language instruction, according to a study conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics in 2009. This is a decline of six percent in a decade. Yet, there are distinct advantages, including improved test scores, music skills and proficiency reached, for elementary students who learn a second language.
Foreign Language Basics
Spanish is the most commonly taught foreign language at the elementary school level, followed by French, Latin and Chinese. School districts offer one of three foreign language teaching styles: exploratory, language focus and immersion. The most commonly offered program in elementary schools is the exploratory model, in which students experience an introductory exposure to a foreign language. In language focus programs, students listen, speak, read and write in the foreign language. Neither of these programs expects students to gain much proficiency in the language. In the immersion model, however, students are given the opportunity to attain high levels of proficiency.
Excelling at a foreign language at a young age usually means a child also has better musical skills, according to a study conducted by professors at the University of Turku, Finland. In this study, elementary school students with superior performance in foreign language production also had more advanced music abilities. The researchers concluded that a child’s brain uses the same neural mechanisms for foreign language and music production.
Ability To Focus
Young foreign language students have better attention skills than students who know only one language, according to researchers at the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab. Research from the lab shows that exposure to a second language at a young age plays a key role in cognitive development. Young foreign language students develop the ability to select and maintain focus better than other children and adults, which plays a key role in academic success.
Starting foreign language learning in elementary school increases a student’s level of language proficiency compared to waiting until middle or high school, according to a report from the Center for Applied Second Language Studies in 2010. Students who began learning a foreign language in elementary school reached a slightly higher level of proficiency in reading, writing and speaking compared to those who started in middle school. Compared to students who wait until high school to learn a foreign language, elementary school starters are 70 percent more likely to reach an intermediate level of communication.