We are doing a 2 part series on teaching world languages to our youngest students. This week we are excited to talk to Nathan Lutz for his perspective on early language learners. And then our next show will be with Amanda Hsiung Blodgett, who teaches Mandarin, and will share her 6 favorite tips for teachers working with young students. Treat yourself to a latte, settle in, and join our Language Latte facebook group to get in on the conversation!
Every episode, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students’ achieve proficiency. And this episode’s topic focuses on our younger learners. First of all, how prevalent are early language programs around the world? Why is it important to start learning another language when kids are this young- and what are the benefits? For teachers who teach kids from toddlers through elementary school- how is it different than upper grades or high school learners? And for this younger set of students, where it’s common for teachers to see their students maybe only 90 minutes/week or less- what kind of activities are the most effective and engaging- with the maximum impact?
We are doing a 2 part series on teaching world languages to our youngest students. Let’s first look at what the research says about these early language learners and the advantages of teaching languages to young kids, and then today I’ll interview Nathan Lutz, a stellar French teacher and Global Learning Coordinator at a primary school, who’s also the president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL).
Next episode we’ll continue our focus on early language learners, and speak with Mandarin teacher Amanda Hsiung Blodgett, who will share her 6 favorite tips for teachers working with young students.
Before we get started, there are a couple of terms, acronyms, and organizations that I want to clarify, just so that we’re all on the same page. If any of these are new to you, or you’d like to learn more, I am going to have a link to all of the pages in the show notes on Kid World Citizen.org, just click on podcasts in the upper right. OK, let’s go through these. So first we have some big name organizations that support teachers of languages. These include:
ACTFL– which is the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages.
NNELL– is the National Network for Early Language Learning.
NAEYC– is National Association for the Education of Young Children
CAL– is the Center for Applied Linguistics.
ELLA– is Early Learning Languages Australia
EC is the European Commission
Next we have some different program types that we’ll mention.
FLES programs: that is F-L-E-S are Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, and it is a term often used in the United States. A successful FLES program has community and administrative support, they are staffed by fully qualified teachers and have well-planned curricula and goals, with sufficient resources. FLES programs should be a part of the K-12 Foreign Language sequence. CAL says the target language should be taught 75 minutes per week, while ACTFL and NNELL recommend a minimum of 90 minutes per week.
There are some different models for FLES programs:
Dual language is a program that teaches literacy and content in two languages. By the way, I have a great episode coming up where I speak with a principal who helped to start a dual language program at his school.
Total Immersion programs- are programs in which all subjects in the lower grades (K-2) are taught in the target language; instruction in English usually increases to 20%-50% in the upper elementary grades (3-6), depending on the program. In partial immersion programs, only some subjects are taught in the second language.
OK, now that we got some definitions out of the way, let’s take a look at the numbers of early language learners in different parts of the world. And after that, we’ll see what the research says about the benefits of learning another language at this young age. I am going to go over some principles of language development: how kids learn languages, so we can use developmentally appropriate practices and strategies. And finally we’ll speak with Nathan about his recommendations regarding early language learners.
So- where are young kids learning another language in school? I’d like to give a little overview about early language learners around the globe, because I don’t want this to be overly US-centric or Europe-centric.
In Europe, around 80% of pupils between the ages of 6 and 9 years old start learning another language in school. 80%. In some areas, such as the German-speaking part of Belgium, students are even younger: they are taught a world language in pre-school from the age of three. In fact, the EC recommends teaching 2 additional languages to the younger students. According to the 2012 Eurostat Report (Key Data on Teaching Languages in School in Europe), the most common languages in order of popularity in Europe are English, French, and German. One common model is language instruction for an hour a week, while other schools have a more intense immersion program. So we know that kids in Europe are being taught and are acquiring languages from a young age.
Australia has a new initiative to bring language learning to preschoolers called “ELLA.” ELLA is a digital, play-based program which includes a series of interactive applications (apps), aimed at making language learning engaging and interesting to preschoolers. In 2018, over 2,400 preschool services have implemented it, with a reach of about 90,000 children. Languages available include Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Modern Greek and Hindi.
While learning a foreign language is a must in Europe, and gaining momentum in Australia, the U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. It’s around 25% of public and private primary schools that offer foreign language instruction. In this episode we are not exclusively focusing on dual language programs, but instead talking about any world class in which the language teacher comes in maybe 1, 2, 3 times a week for an hour or less.
Moving to Latin America, bilingual education is most often Spanish and English. Nonetheless there are a growing number of institutions teaching indigenous languages such as Quechua or Aymara in Peru and Bolivia, Mayan in Mexico and Guatemala.
In Canada there are over 2000 French immersion schools, but we can’t overlook the newer early language programs like Mandarin, Spanish, and indigenous languages.
Bilingual education in Africa is complex. Ex-colonial languages are used as the dominant media of instruction, there is a growing segment of programs that adopt indigenous languages as the dominant languages of education. Often, a large number of local or family languages co-exist within schools. For example, in Eritrea, an educated person will likely have had some portion of their schooling in Tigrigna and Arabic and English, and will have developed proficiency in reading all these languages, which are written using three completely different scripts.The African Academy of Languages and African Union, are working to maintain literacy in students’ mother tongue beyond only the early years.
In China and India the majority of bilingual programs start with English being taught to children from a young age. Countries in Southeast Asia have an enormous diversity of home languages being spoken, and children are often exposed to their national language when they enter into school for the first time. Regional languages, such as Javanese in Indonesia or Tamil in Malaysia are often not taught in schools. In the upper grades, schools sometimes add English or Mandarin.
So there we have a glimpse of the early language programs really around the world. As more advocacy and research push schools to teach languages at younger ages, more funding is approved, and more quality programs are integrated. Let’s have a look at the benefits of learning languages earlier.
There are really so many advantages of being bilingual, and I am not going to go into a great depth right now, because I believe that language teachers understand the many benefits. I will link to several academic articles in the show notes that you can peruse through and pass on to any doubting parents or teachers.
Besides the obvious benefits like being able to speak to a wider range of people, having career advancements in the future, maintaining contact with home culture and family, expanding cultural knowledge, learning about compassion and empathy… there are physical differences in the brains of bilingual individuals that give them cognitive advantages over monolinguals.
Bilingual kids develop clearer phoneme awareness, they are more apt to pay attention to detail and manage languages with ease. They further produce a more ample vocabulary than monolinguals. An excellent article regarding the cognitive effects of bilingualism is written by Ellen Bialystok. She reviews data from young preschoolers to adults who have grown up with more than one language. The research has shown that bilingual preschoolers are better at staying on task and filtering out distractions than their monolingual peers. This advantage is carried out through adulthood, when bilingualism appears to play a role in preventing cognitive decline in people over 60.
Ben-Zeev writes that bilingual children scored higher on the WISC which is a commonly used IQ test for children in the sub-tests on similarities, digit span, picture completion, and picture arrangement. A more recent study by Pettito showed that bilingual children are able to perform certain cognitive tasks more accurately than monolingual peers, and are better “multi-taskers.”
In another article by Bialystock, she looks at the acquisition of literacy in bilingual children. She posits that the pre-literacy skills and the ability to read transfer across languages and systems. Therefore, “children who have learned skills in one language can potentially benefit from that mastery by applying them to the other.” I have seen this in my 4 older children, who are learned to read in English at school, and in Spanish at home. When they learn to “sound it out,” they transfer this skill to both languages. In fact, in a study of monolingual and bilingual 5 year olds, the bilingual children showed a higher level of phonological awareness (syllables, sounds, awareness of what makes up the word) than their monolingual peers (Loizou 2003).
There is just tons of research that shows that early language learners are at a huge advantage to monolinguals.
Teaching early language learners requires an understanding of the best practices and strategies. Not only because younger children are still mastering their first language, but also because world language classes at this age are often less than daily experiences. How can teachers achieve the maximum impact with their classes, if they only see their students a couple of times a week, or even a couple of times a month? Our guest today is going to share his perspective as an early childhood and primary French teacher.
Interview with Nathan Lutz, French Teacher and President of National Network for Early Language Learning
Nathan Lutz is the Global Learning Coordinator and Primary School French Teacher at Kent Place School, a leader in girls’ education, located in Summit, New Jersey. As an advocate for early world language instruction for all children, he serves the profession in various leadership roles: vice president of programs of the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey’s (FLENJ); president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL); and the vice chair of the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL). Nathan is a 2007 NYSAFLT Leaders of Tomorrow fellow, a 2012 UPenn STARTALK Excellence in Leadership fellow, and a 2014 NECTFL Mead Fellow. Nathan is a frequent conference presenter, program consultant, and writer for various early language programs, with credits at Early Advantage’s Muzzy, Little Pim, and Language Together. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathanlutz.
In our interview with Nathan we learn all about Early Language Learners, as I ask him the following questions:
1) Nathan, my first question is going to have you preach to the choir, but I have to affirm and validate brilliant language teachers around the world. Why is it important to start learning another language when kids are this young?
2) My professional experience teaching has been mainly with high school and adult language learners- however I have 5 kids ages 4-13 who I’ve been raising bilingual since they were babies. I’m interested in your perspective as an elementary school teacher: What do you think are the biggest differences between working with older students, and working with Early Language Learners?
3) Along the same lines, could you expand on your methods or strategies: What sort of teaching methodology works best with younger kids? Do you have any favorite activities that you find yourself repeating?
4) Many teachers I’ve spoken with at the preschool or elementary level regret that they only see their students a couple of times a week- or maybe only once a week. For teachers who only see their students these minimal times per week, how can they achieve maximum impact in a shorter amount of time?
5) I got a message from a listener on twitter- I am @kidworldcitizen and Nathan is active @nathanlutz in case you’re tweeting- they asked what project-based learning looks like for prek- elementary grades?
6) Nathan: Do ACTFL’s Can Do Statements change for Early Language Learners- or are they the same for any age?
The Power of “Yet” and Believe you Can Improve by Carol Dweck
7) OK, my last question for you: What is the best part of teaching languages to little kids?
If you have more questions, or if you have great ideas that work in the classroom, we talk about language teaching 24/7, in our Language Latte facebook group, and I am also on twitter @kidworldcitizen. I love to chat about questions or hear feedback you have about this episode, and to gather your ideas for future shows. Tell us what you’re doing in your language classroom!
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Loizou, M. and Stuart, M. (2003). Phonological awareness in monolingual and bilingual English and Greek five-year-olds. Journal of Research in Reading. 26: 3–18.
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Petitto, Laura-Ann & Dunbar, Kevin. (2004). “New findings from Educational Neuroscience on Bilingual Brains.” Conference on Building Usable Knowledge in Mind, Brain, & Education Harvard Graduate School of Education October 6-8, 2004