WorldView: A Language Blog

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Our Kids Need Us To Support World Language Learning

By Guest Contributor: Stacie Berdan | Published: May 2, 2017

One of the most critical components of a 21st century education is world language learning. Yet the United States may be the only industrialized nation in the world where it’s possible to complete secondary and post-secondary education without any world language study whatsoever. Although most high schools and colleges/universities sometimes require one or two years of foreign language study for graduation, this small effort won’t suffice if our students are to compete successfully in the global marketplace.  

The argument for learning other world languages is strong and growing stronger. Decades of research prove that learning another language:

  • Supports academic progress in other subjects;
  • Narrows achievement gaps between different demographic student populations;
  • Aids both basic skills and higher order, abstract, and creative thinking;
  • Enriches and enhances cognitive development (especially if done early);
  • Enhances a student’s sense of achievement;
  • Improves scores on standardized tests;
  • Promotes cultural awareness and competency;
  • Improves chances of college acceptance and achievement;
  • Enhances career opportunities; and
  • Benefits understanding and security in one’s community and society.

Unfortunately, learning a language takes years—just consider how much time it takes babies to learn to speak and then become literate—and not everyone appreciates its importance. Language programs, where they exist, and where they are hardly a component of the standard school curriculum, are often threatened by school budget cuts or misunderstood as being unnecessary due to “Google Translate” or other digital translation services.

Learning a language, however, is about much more than speaking. It’s about communicating with other people across a cultural divide. Children learn just as much about other people and their cultures as they do about the language.

Parents can play a critical role as advocates both inside and outside the classroom by supporting, promoting and expanding world language programs in their local school districts. Parents must also be prepared to support their children’s language study as an important component of ongoing K–16 education.

1. Children should begin language study as early as possible (if parents don’t speak other languages at home or have access to a pre-school language teacher).

2. Children should be encouraged to study and practice daily as they would any other subject; the more practice, the better.

3. Parents should reinforce the importance of continuing language study through (or even beginning in) high school and college.

4. Parents should seek out ways for their children to improve and experience other languages outside the classroom, such as through books, music and movies; conversations with native speakers (perhaps with a neighbor or relative or in a local ethnic restaurant); and immersive summer experiences such as STARTALK, Concordia Language Villages or study abroad

5. Parents should praise children for their dedication, celebrate their progress and show interest in what they’re learning, even if they themselves don’t speak the language.

World language learning can be a transformative experience, changing the way children think and interact with the world around them. Parents’ involvement can make a significant difference.

About the Author

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan is a seasoned global executive and the mother of twins who spent two summers as villagers at El Lago del Bosque. She is the author of six books on the intersection of globalization and careers, including the best-selling “A Parent Guide to Study Abroad” (IIE 2015) and award-winning “Raising Global Children” (ACTFL 2013).

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