Thursday, March 22, 2012

Benefits of Early Language Study

Texans best hurry and learn Spanish.

The Chinese People’s Consultative Conference closed in Beijing with a proposal that surprised both the locals and foreigners.

It was proposed that lessons in the study of English should no longer be give in Chinese kindergartens.

Ling Zi, a respected deputy chair of the Chinese Confucius Academy, believes that English and other foreign languages should only be studied beginning in high school. The idea is to make sure students are given enough time to develop their Chinese skills.

The Confucius Institute offers cultural and Chinese language courses in 105 countries and regions, covering 86 percent of the world’s population. And 160 universities in 62 countries are working with the Institute to advance the language study. (Sweden plans to offer Mandarin in all primary schools and Pakistani education authorities are making Mandarin compulsory for primary schools.)

China’s culture needs to be known and understood by the Han (94 percent of the population) and the other 50-plus ethnic groups. The traditional forms need bolstering, in historic buildings, language and ancient skills.

It is important to retain the old and traditional. But it is also a proven fact that the earlier a child studies a foreign language the greater will be the success.

By delaying foreign language study until their teens is not the road to take. Next to adults starting a second language the teenage years are the most difficult.

It is also unfortunate there are those who think learning a second language early is harmful to the child. Studies in all cultures have shown that learning a second language speeds up learning in other subjects, especially critical thinking and history-cultural studies.

China’s continued economic development benefits as more of the people learn English. In the tourist industry China needs thousands of interpreters in many languages.

In learning a foreign language the individual also learns about foreign culture; understanding more clearly why foreigners act the way they do.

There would be fewer wars if we got to know each other better.

The most effective way to teach children a second language is like the idiom “thrown them in at the shallow end” like a youngster learning to swim.

I did not learn to swim until I was in my late 20s. By then my fear of water was greater than when I was a child. So it is with language study. Start learning before the fear of the study gains the upper hand.

It is in the majority of American high schools that the student first encounters foreign languages. This is more than unfortunate, it is tragic. It is a lost cause to begin so late.

According to the Confucius Institute in Beijing the United Kingdom offers Mandarin language study in 5,200 schools.

All this about what others are doing should wake up Texians to study their neighbor’s language. San Angelo schools should begin the study of Spanish in kindergarten and carry it through all 12 grades of study. To do less is not fair to the student and certainly not good for the future of our city, state or nation.

China schools have made great strides in teaching English. But beginning a foreign language in the teen years is not a good decision and may yet be reversed.

Our schools have done and are doing a terrible job teaching foreign languages. With Texas soon to have a Hispanic majority, it is unwise to continue to ignore the study of Spanish.


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