Have you started our fifth grader learning a foreign language yet? There are a number of schools that start children at early elementary age in a dual language immersion program. Some other schools begin foreign language learning in a upper elementary school. So, if you haven’t started yet, you are not really behind but certainly by middle school children should begin their foreign language studies.
The next question, of course, is which language should you teach your child? That answer is easy if a parent speaks another language. You may also consider a language as your choice if a grandparent or someone else close to the child is willing to teach the language. Some parents use the consideration of family history as the determining point of what language to teach. For example, if all of the extended family is from India, Spanish would probably not be the first choice of a foreign language to teach. Likewise, if the extended family is from Central America, Swedish would probably not be the first choice.
Some parents look at which foreign language they believe will be most useful in the child’s future academics and profession. With the hopes of rearing a doctor, some parents will choose for their child to learn Latin. Other parents say that since Latin is considered a dead language, there is no point to learning a language that no one speaks any more. Perhaps a parent believes that all business indicators point toward increasing the relationships between the United States and China. In response to that belief, they might point their child toward learning Chinese in some form.
For the most part, any education in a second language is a plus. There are very few negatives to instructing your child in a second language. It is possible that your child has a liking for a certain culture or country and would like to learn the language because of the interest. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is a fairly mainstream language. If your child has fallen in love with a small Pacific island, the only island on which a particular language is spoken, and population on that island is thirty, that language will not generally serve the child as well as French or Italian would. With your child’s long term language acquisition in mind, there is another language your might not have considered. More universities are accepting American Sign Language as a second language.
After you have determined what language your child will learn as a second language, the next choice you need to make is closely related. How will your child learn that language? There are many ways to learn another language. If you have the benefit of having a family member or friend who is going to teach your child the language, then the how of that language learning is accomplished is easy. There are computer programs that show the student pictures and the word for that picture and have a native speaker pronounce the word. This, of course, will get more complex as the student gains more knowledge. Many libraries have a program called Mango Languages. If you sign up through your local library this may be low cost or even free. The program offers many languages including some that are not very mainstream. Another way to learn a foreign language is the way that it is done in many schools. Get a text book, workbook and CD’s and just work through it. This is a better way to acquire written language than it is for acquiring fluency in spoken language. Community centers and some churches have foreign language programs that are offered.
Regardless of how your child learns a second language, there are a couple of things to remember. Sometimes learning about grammar in another language helps a student understand English grammar better. Language is a gateway to other countries and other cultures.
The only problems I see with second language acquisition is not really with the choice of languages or how that language is taught. For some students, particularly those who are having trouble with English language acquisition to begin with will find it more difficult or even impossible to become fluent in a second language. For example, children with dyslexia sometimes have a much harder time learning to read and write English. By adding yet another language on top of the difficulties they are already having, it is possible to overwhelm that child. The most important thing about teaching your child a foreign language is to keep in mind individual learning styles. If your child thrives on text books and workbooks, try that. If on the other hand, your child is like mine and wants the information presented as fast as possible, bright colors, moving pictures and intense interaction, then one on one language learning or a computer program might be a better bet. If you haven’t yet started your fifth grader in a second language then there is no better time than the present to get started! Good luck!