Submitted by: Bobby Cox - Director of schools
“Is learning a second language important for students in Warren County?” In recent weeks I have been stopped by community members asking this question. The answer I have given is a resounding, “YES!” And, I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to participate in discussions on why we should begin a second language acquisition program for our elementary school students.
As reported in the Southern Standard, our school system is engaged in discussions with MTSU that are centered on bringing the teaching of Chinese language and culture to our students. In addition, we are talking with local businesses in order to consider the possibility of beginning Japanese language instruction in our schools due to the fact that Warren County's Bridgestone and Yorozu plants, along with the Nissan plants in Smyrna and Dechard, develop business models with a strong Japanese influence. Students who have knowledge of these cultures and the basics of these languages could have a profound advantage in acquiring a job with one of these companies in the future. And, it might even give Warren County an advantage in recruiting future business and jobs to our community.
We currently have enrichment programing at Warren County Middle School that includes online Spanish language instruction, and we teach Spanish and French at Warren County High School as part of the current graduation requirements. Our school system has a limited budget, so bringing programs and teachers to our community with little financial commitment is always attractive and worth exploring.
Let's go a little further with this discussion and look at some research that outlines the advantages of learning a second language, particularly Chinese.
In researching this topic, and second language program opportunities in general, I found some real advantages for students engaged in programs of second language acquisition. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, benefits of learning a second language at an early age are:
• Has a positive effect on intellectual growth.
• Enriches and enhances a child's mental development.
• Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.
• Improves a child's understanding of his/her native language.
• Gives a child the ability to communicate with people s/he would otherwise not have the chance to know.
• Opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries.
• Gives a student a head start in language requirements for college.
• Increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset.
I hope we can all agree these are positive points for all students. But, let's continue and explore additional research to support second language acquisition. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages website, the Duke University Talent Identification Program interviewed several experts in the field of language acquisition about the advantages and benefits of learning a second language.
Those interviewed where Martha G. Abbott, Director of Education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; Therese Sullivan Caccavale, President of the National Network for Early Language Learning; and Ken Stewart, 2006 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year; AP Spanish teacher at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When asked, “Should foreign language instruction start earlier in the U.S.?” they answered:
Abbott: “It is critical that foreign language instruction be available to all students throughout their PK-12 academic experience. Knowing other languages and understanding other cultures is a 21st Century skill set for American students as they prepare to live and work in a global society. No matter what career students enter, they will be interacting with others around the world on a routine basis and doing business locally with those whose native language is not English.”
Caccavale: “Yes, because it has been shown to enhance children's cognitive development. Children who learn a foreign language beginning in early childhood demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not.”
Stewart: “Absolutely. Every piece of research in the field points to the benefits of starting a second language as early as three years of age. The other key to becoming proficient in another language is a long, continuous contact with the language. Until we have a well-articulated PK-16 second language "buy-in" from legislators, school boards, administrators, and parents, the U.S. will continue to lag behind other nations, thus prolonging monolingualism.”
Research is consistent. The earlier any language is introduced, the greater the acquisition and retention, as well as greater the benefits to students.
Let's now consider why Chinese language instruction is beneficial. First, as reported, we are considering a partnership with MTSU, who has agreed to provide teachers for the program and to pay their entire salary. It is no secret the Chinese are moving into a position in the business world where more and more American businesses are expanding or moving their business interests to China. Gaining knowledge of the Chinese culture would be an advantage to our students. China is the most populated country in the world with over 1.4 billion people. One out of five people in the world is Chinese. Because China is one of America’s largest trading partners, it is highly possible our children will someday interact with someone who speaks Chinese. Many American companies currently do business in China, including Apple computer, Motorola, Coca Cola, and Ford. There are many other advantages, but I think you may now agree, we have a great opportunity to give our students an advantage that has yet to be offered in our community.
When it comes to classroom instruction, Tennessee is considered to be an “English only” state. This simply means all instruction is given in English. In Warren County we have an excellent English as a Second Language (ESL) program that embraces students from other countries, or whose native language is not English. The program aids them in learning to speak English and learn the American culture. Learning other languages and cultures is not the norm in America, but it is commonplace in other countries. Other developing countries include English language instruction in the early grades. This knowledge may create business opportunities, as well as the opportunity to attend American universities in order to learn skills they can bring back to their home country and be successful. Again, learning a second language would allow our students to be more culturally diverse and gives them an advantage.
In conclusion, I hope this article provides a more in depth look at why language acquisition is important for students in Warren County. If our students learn Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, or any other language, along with gaining knowledge of the culture of these countries, it will allow them to have increased advantages in their future career and educational choices. I want our school system to go above and beyond the basics to offer all students in Warren County the opportunity to receive a high quality education that enables them to have advantages that others in Tennessee and the world do not have. I want leaders, executives, and recruiters to look at our community and consider bringing new business to Warren County because we are on the cutting edge of education and are able to supply them a workforce that can help them compete globally. I applaud our school board for taking this step to explore a second language program for our school system in order to give our students the advantage they need to better themselves and our community.