In the course of a recent Language Log thread, a comment by John Lawler linked to an extremely interesting term paper (pdf) written some years ago by a student of his named Melissa Demyanovich called “‘Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me This Before?’: Language Science in K-12 Education.” It starts kids off with a subject dear to my heart: “The first class, in first grade, would be a basic introductory course called Languages of the World, which touches on lightly on some topics within Language Science, without concentrating too heavily on any one.” The proposals for subsequent grades are well thought out (though of course I bridle at saddling helpless kids with things like “components of deep structure and theories of movement”), and I wish I thought there were any chance of such a program being adopted. To give you an idea of the level of detail with which the author has thought this through, here’s a proposal for second grade:
Second grade would tackle the subject of phonology. The first class would begin with a question put to the students: “How many languages do you think there are?” The teacher would then tell the students that there are between 6,000 and 8,000 different languages in the world. This would be followed by brainstorming different sounds, and then the announcement that there are 800 different speech sounds in languages in the world. Some of the odder sounds to English speakers will be introduced the first day—clicks, uvulars, and ejectives—to get the kids interested in “funny noises class.”
The first unit will be about the vocal tract, with the students learning to identify different parts of the vocal tract (alveolar ridge, uvula, hard and soft palate). Labeled diagrams and a linguist’s model of the human head will be used to illustrate these. The vocal cords and the difference between voiced and voiceless will be focused on specifically in their own lesson as a basis for the rest of the year.
Students will be given a blank simplified IPA chart (this one specifically shaded to reflect only the sounds in English) which they will fill out with the new symbols and sounds learned at the end of each lesson. The beginning of each lesson will be a review of the sounds which have been already learned. Every sound will be reviewed, until students finish the English sounds part of the course. Then, to cut down on time, English sounds will only be reviewed once a week.