Seven-year-old Cooper Van Der Meer is learning Spanish as a second language.
That’s right. This American native is lucky enough to be in a school system that considers the acquisition of languages so important in today’s polyglot, globally entwined America that students start learning a foreign language in kindergarten…
Martha Abbott, director of education at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said that while there is no reliable data on the trend, her organization keeps learning of more school systems that think paying for elementary school language teachers is money well invested.
Since September 2006, all students in grades one through five in Loudon County, Va., have been given 30 to 60 minutes of Spanish instruction each week. Last year, officials in Fairfax County, Va. — which, with 165,439 students, is the nation’s 13th-largest school system — decided to expand the study of foreign languages to all 137 elementary schools over a seven-year period. Twenty-five Fairfax schools provide 30-minute lessons twice a week in Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese or French starting in the first grade. Ten schools have ambitious “immersion” programs where math, science and health are taught in a foreign language.
Paula Patrick, the Fairfax system’s foreign language coordinator, said Americans have for too long had a “mind-set that everyone else in the world could learn English.” Her district is receiving appeals from businesses that need global-ready travelers and from a health care industry that needs translators.
The growth in language instruction is also taking place in college. A survey by the Modern Language Association released yesterday found a 13 percent increase in language-course enrollments between 2002 and 2006, with a 127 percent increase in the number of students taking Arabic.
Now if they’d just start teaching the basics of linguistics in elementary school (language changes and that’s OK, different people talk differently and that’s OK, grammar is part of how you speak and not something an authority imposes on you…) I’d be a happy man. (Thanks for the link, Bonnie!)