WorldView: A Language Blog

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Gifted Kids and Language Immersion: The Perfect Match

By Guest Blogger: Jane Hesslein | Published: October 9, 2014

Gifted kids—and adults—are intense. They ask probing questions, make lightning-fast connections, consider several perspectives at once. They seem to be wired twice for input, seeing details that others don’t, feeling more fear or joy, sadness or excitement than others, delighting in complicated ideas. Teaching them (and living with them) is a mental, emotional and physical challenge—and a whole lot of fun.

Their need to understand and tackle problems makes language learning a perfect goal. For them, learning a language has the same benefits as for anyone else:

  • Gaining the ability to express themselves in new ways
  • Having several frameworks for defining and solving problems
  • Openness to other cultures
  • Greater confidence when traveling
  • Accessibility to new people and information
  • Intercultural sensitivity and understanding
Students studying at the Concordia Language Villages

However, the ways in which they learn—deeper, faster, higher—and the complexity and connections they require makes language and cultural immersion programs a near-perfect partner for them.

Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist, created a theory of advanced personal development, his Theory of Positive Disintegration, which includes the idea of five overexcitabilities (OEs). These are seen often in the gifted population and can help parents and teachers understand the behavior of gifted kids. Each one of these OEs is addressed at the Concordia Language Villages; knowing about them can help explain why gifted kids thrive there.

Intellectual OE is the quality most people think of when they imagine what it would be like to be gifted. It is marked by intense curiosity, a drive to learn, a need to know. These kids think hard—they even think about their thinking (metacognition)! They are the ones who focus on morality, often before their agemates. The world’s problems can trouble them deeply, but helping them find a small step they can take toward potential solutions is helpful.

Psychomotor OE kids are pretty easy to spot in the classroom. They have interminable energy, and they may chatter endlessly. They are in motion even when they think they are being still. It’s tempting to look for an off switch—I’d settle for being able to set them on “low” for a while in class. Their enthusiasm can be overwhelming for others who don’t share the same passions. When they are physically active as they learn, whether it is a new language, sport or artistic effort, these kids can harness this energy and apply it.

Sensual OE is marked by intense receptivity through the senses. These kids delight in art, music, kitchen aromas, the sounds of language, textures and natural beauty.  When they are in an environment that offers learning through the senses (which is nearly impossible in a traditional classroom!), they can integrate their learning better and ground it in a combination of the intellectual and sensual. 

Imaginational OE includes a strong creative streak, and often the rules of physics don’t apply!  (“First, I need some wings…”) In school, these kids drift off into a more interesting world when they are bored. When learning includes a huge dose of creativity in the lesson plan, its delivery, and the invited responses, using their imagination becomes integral to the learning.  Students have to create a response and not simply choose one from the possible provided answers.

Emotional OE includes intense and deeply felt emotions. Sometimes these are intuited at a level that the kids don’t even understand and can’t express. Relationships become close quickly, and attachments are long-lasting. When connected to emotions, learning sticks better. Lessons in which students see themselves as active players are more likely to be remembered.

If you look again at the list of language learning benefits at the beginning of this article, you’ll see that each item is addressed at the Concordia Language Villages through the OEs. Learning about language and culture is immersive, intensive, emotional, physical and creative.  If Dabrowski were to design a program of language learning for gifted kids, I expect it would look very much like the Language Villages, where kids can experience being their best, most connected selves while learning.

Reference: Sharon Lind. Overexcitability and the Gifted. 

About Our Guest Blogger

Jane Hesslein has specialized in gifted education for nearly 30 years. She has presented at NAGC (the National Association for Gifted Children), SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), and many state and local gifted conferences. Some of her articles about the gifted can be found at www.sengifted.org. She currently teaches Grade 5 Humanities at Seattle Country Day School, an independent school for the gifted. She has been on the board of SENG and a member of the National Advisory Board of the Concordia Language Villages. Both of her children attended Concordia Language Villages and live the intercultural message.
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