Bilingual individuals boast a higher density of grey matter, which improves information processing ability, memory skills, and control over emotional and physical responses. However, the added density of grey matter due to second language acquisition decreases as the age of acquisition increases. Therefore, it is imperative that second language education begin early in a child’s life in order to capitalize on the learning benefits that come from foreign language education.
“The State of Foreign Language Education in the United States”
Many European students know three or more languages (their native language, English, and one other foreign language). This synthesis intends to identify how American students compare to their peers around the globe, by seeking answers to the following questions:
- What effect does knowing multiple languages have on the learning process?
- How many students in the United States know a second language compared to students in Europe?
- What are the educational options for learning a foreign language in the United States?
- Are these educational options accessible and effective?
It has been found that knowing multiple languages benefits the learning process by increasing the development of executive function. Additionally, being multilingual affects the density of grey matter in the brain. The synthesis then explores the data comparing the number of students who are studying a foreign language in Europe and in the United States. The possible reasons for the disparity are explored and the education options that are offered in the United States are examined with respect to their accessibility and effectiveness. These options consist of immersion programs, blended learning programs, and traditional classroom instruction.
To read the full synthesis, click here.
To see the references used for the project, click here.
Executive control assists in functions such as focus, planning, and prioritizing. These attributes improve achievement in the classroom and are valued in the workplace. There is also evidence that suggests students who learn math and science in an immersion setting achieve better than students who are not.
Being bilingual enables students to excel in the workplace. The Washington Post emphasizes bilingual individuals' abilities to compete economically and contribute to the global community (Mathews, 2019).
- Approximately 90% of European students learn a foreign language in school, compared to 20% of U.S. students
- Most European students begin foreign language education in primary school, while U.S. students typically begin classes in middle and high school
- Many European students are learning more than one foreign language
- European countries often have national mandates requiring foreign language education, but the U.S. leaves the decision to the states, and sometimes individual school districts
- Only 10 states require world language education in order to graduate
- 16 states make no mention of foreign language education in their graduation requirements
- Ohio, Maine, New Jersey and Washington use the tests provided by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) but they require different scores
- California does not use the ACTFL test, but has their own, the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET)
- These tests have oral and written components
- The variation in certification requirements is not isolated to foreign language education, many states have different requirements for all levels and subjects of education
Between 1997 and 2008, there was a significant decline in the number of U.S. middle schools that taught foreign languages, and only 15% of public elementaries offer foreign language education, compared to 50% of private elementaries. It has been found that conventional instruction is not as effective as immersion learning, which could be due to low quantity of instruction and limited context of instruction.
(American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017)
(Bergström et al., 2016)
Technology is added to conventional instruction to provide more variety to the traditional teaching and learning methods. The teachers surveyed identified time, training and technological support, and access as the three largest barriers to technology integration. Kazu and Demirkol (2014) conducted a study of Turkish high school students, students who had been exposed to blended learning performed better on the post-test measures compared to those who participated in conventional instruction.With blended learning, students can access learning anywhere and at any point in time, and can access more information to explore different perspectives which prompt big-picture thinking.
Immersion education is more difficult to expand because it requires bilingual teachers that are certified to teach the core subjects, such as reading, math and science. Immersion programs are becoming more accessible, but it is important that the increase occur in all states and geographic areas. In a 2016 study, students in immersion programs outperformed students in conventional instruction in receptive vocabulary tests (Bergström et al.). In immersion programs, students are exposed to the foreign language in various contexts and for longer periods of time.
We must make foreign language equally accessible in public and private schools, so that all students can reap the short- and long-term benefits.
If the United States integrated world language standards and requirements into the Common Core, American students would be able to catch up to their European counterparts. Foreign language must also be included uniformly in state graduation requirements.
Educating the general public about the benefits of foreign language education would help gain support for including it in graduation requirements. Additionally, highlighting the effects of immersion programs would likely increase the support for existing programs and generate demand for new programs in areas that lack access to them.
Blended learning opens the door for more authentic instruction, as students can communicate with native speakers and peers. It also provides a variety of possible activities that serve different learners well, such as listening activities, videos, and study materials.
If students are shown the career opportunities provided to them, such as teaching, they will be more likely to continue learning a foreign language. This can be done through career pathway programs, which demonstrate how students can apply classroom learning in the future.
Without a sufficient number of teachers, the number of foreign language classes or immersion schools cannot increase. A common solution to teacher shortages in specific subjects or geographic areas is to offer incentives. These include making teacher compensation more competitive, and providing benefits such as housing and childcare supports.