In this age of increasing demands and accountability, many may wonder about the benefits of foreign language study, particularly in programs where the amount of time spent in foreign language instruction is small. Currently, Spanish instruction at Hollis Montessori begins in at the Primary level (ages 3-6). Once a week, these students benefit from small and large group instruction, using Montessori materials to play language games, read books, and sing songs. Since his first Spanish presentation, my son, who is in the Primary level, has been excited to label anyone who visits our home as an “amiga” or “amigo”. This initial spark grows and develops through the levels until in the Upper School, students receive about four hours of Spanish instruction a week and are able to read, write, create and retell stories, all in the target language. While we may enjoy hearing the Spanish words and phrases young children learn, is it our belief and goal that children will become advanced bilinguals after a few hours of study each week or month? If not, then why do we spend any of our valuable time and resources on foreign language instruction?
Language learners benefit from their experiences far beyond the oft-cited goal of becoming bilingual, and perhaps in unexpected ways. Three major areas are affected by language learning: academic achievement, cognitive development, and attitudes and beliefs about language learning and about other cultures. While Hollis Montessori remains committed to foreign language study and is moving toward adding more time to early Spanish instruction, other schools are sadly considering putting foreign language study on the chopping block.
How does language learning support academic achievement?
- Language learning is beneficial in the development of students’ reading abilities.
- Language learners transfer skills from one language to another.
- There is a correlation between second language learning and increased linguistic awareness.
- There is a correlation between language learning and students’ ability to hypothesize in science.
- Language learning can benefit all students.
- There is a correlation between young children’s second language development and the development of print awareness.
- There is a correlation between high school foreign language study and higher academic performance at the college level.
How does language learning provide cognitive benefits to students?
- There is evidence that early language learning improves cognitive abilities.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and attentional control on cognitive tasks.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and intelligence, metalinguistic skills, memory skills, problem solving ability, and improved verbal and special abilities.
How does language learning affect attitudes and beliefs about language learning and about other cultures?
Research suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language and/or the speakers of that language.
To review the specific studies that support these claims, please visit www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows
-Meesa (Upper School/Spanish Guide)