Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foreign Language - Acquisition, Academics and Attitudes

Did you know as humans we have a “critical period” for learning new languages? Take a look at the attached graph. (Picture is a representation of the graph referenced and discussed in this video link) It illustrates there is a ‘critical period’ to begin language acquisition. Beginning after the age of 7, our ability to learn a new language begins to drop off. After puberty, our abilities are far more limited.

The FLTF spent considerable time researching foreign language. One theme which presented itself was the outcome foreign language study has on other areas of academic learning and achievement, as well as the impact it has on the development of attitudes towards other cultures. The information available on this subject is enormous. Highlighted below are some research summaries that may be of interest to readers.

  • Comparison of FLES children starting language in Grade 1 - Grade 6 as compared to monolingual peers in Grade 6 revealed higher scores in divergent thinking. (Landry 1974)

Landry, R.G. (1974). A comparison of second language learners and monolinguals on divergent thinking tasks at the elementary school level. "Modern Language Journal

  • Comparison of 6th Grade FLES students to English-only controls showed an increased level of metacognitive processing, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. (Foster and Reeves 1989)

Foster, K. M., & Reeves, C. K. (1989). Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) improves cognitive skills. FLES News

  • A study of 13,200 3rd graders and 5th graders in Louisiana Public Schools revealed that, regardless of race, gender, or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. (Dumas 1999)

Dumas, L.S., Learning a Second Language: Exposing Your Child to a New World of Words Boosts Her Brainpower, Vocabulary, and Self-Esteem, Child, February 1999, 72, 74, 76-77, summarizing Rafferty, E.A., Second Language Study and Basic Skills in Louisiana (Louisiana Dep’t of Educ. 1986) (in study of 13,200 3rd-5th graders studying French 30 minutes per day achieved significantly higher scores on the Basic Skills Language Arts Test than non-participants, regardless of gender, academic level or race).

  • Grade 3, one semester of FLES Spanish - math and language arts scores improved compared to the control group (Armstrong and Rogers 1997)

Armstrong, P.W. and J.D. Rogers. (1997). Basic Skills Revisited: The Effects of Foreign Language Instruction on Reading, Math and Language Arts.” Learning Languages, Spring. (*"Presents a study that provides quantitative and qualitative evidence of the effect of foreign language education upon the basic skills of elementary students, with the hope that such evidence will provide information and assistance to parents and educators who are investigating the benefits of elementary school foreign language programs.")

  • Mastering the vocabulary of a second language enhances student comprehension and abilities in reading, writing, mathematics and other subjects. (Saville-Troike 1984)

Saville-Troike, M. (1984). "What Really Matters in Second Language Learning for Academic Achievement?" TESOL Quarterly

  • Research suggests that attitudes about other groups and peoples are formed by the age of 10 and are often shaped between the ages of four and eight. Learning a language at a young age helps connect a child with another culture while they are still open-minded and have not yet begun to restrict their views of others whom they perceive to be different. (Curtain & Pesola 1988)

Curtain, H. A. & Pesola, C. A. (1988). "Languages and children—Making the match." Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Research continues not only for school-aged children, but a lot of research is directed towards infants as well. The attached video link highlights some of the things being learned about language and babies and where the answers to those research questions could lead us in the future. Enjoy!

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