Beginning in pre-kindergarten, Fairmont students attend Spanish class once per week. In these early years, Fairmont’s Spanish teachers focus on exposing students to basic vocabulary and common phrases, while introducing the culture of Spanish speaking countries. As children progress through Fairmont, they will continue with introductory Spanish classes through 5th grade before beginning more intensive foreign language study in junior high.
With the foundational Spanish classes focusing on broad exposure to the language and culture, we recognize that our youngest students will not become fluent overnight. We also know that early exposure to foreign language plays a significant role in brain development that benefits young students in all aspects of life. Research on early language acquisition from Cornell University and Northwestern University describe the following benefits of early exposure to a foreign language:
1) Early learning environments are more conducive to language learning because they are rich in language. Language is generally presented to young children “in attention-grabbing, digestible bundles that are targeted skillfully at their developmental level. Caregivers typically speak in ways that are neither too simple nor too complex… This high-quality and high-quantity experience with language—a special feature of how people communicate with young children—often results in successful language learning. It gives children rich, diverse, and engaging opportunities to learn about the sounds, syllables, words, phrases, and sentences” that make up a language.
2) Children with early exposure to a foreign language show an increase in attention span and focus, even when distracted by outside stimuli. Similarly, they “appear to perform a little better… on tasks that involve switching between activities.” This is particularly beneficial as they become expected to complete independent work and stay on-task through small group rotations in a classroom setting.
3) The cognitive advantages of learning a foreign language increase future academic success, particularly in other language-based skills. Certain aspects of memory are also enhanced, such as “generalizing information from one event to a later event,” which is an important part of cognitive development and the application of knowledge.
4) Learning a foreign language enhances a child’s sensitivity to subtleties in communication, such as tone of voice. This advances their social skills by enabling them to “better understand others’ perspectives, thoughts, desires, and intentions.” This awareness builds empathy and improves their ability to navigate complex social interactions.
Fairmont prides itself on its dedicated and experienced Spanish teachers, who bring these added benefits to our young students. Not only are students having fun while learning a language, but they’re growing both cognitively and socially! Here are some ideas for helping students of any age get a better grasp on learning another language!