What would you do if you could give your child something that is proven to boost her creativity, empathy and cognitive functions, while putting her on a path to increased academic and career success? You'd jump all over it, right? As a mother of three daughters, I certainly would.
As seemingly countless studies have shown, learning a foreign language will help a student in all the ways listed above. But thanks to new providers like the company I am fortunate to run, Middlebury Interactive Languages, high-quality foreign language programs are more accessible than ever, both through online programs or blended/hybrid versions that provide classroom teachers with new learning tools and curriculum resources.
In recent years, K-12 foreign language programs have been pared back or even eliminated from many schools. This is driven by budget cuts and misunderstanding of the role of foreign language in the overall education of students. Some policymakers and educators don't recognize the benefits of language learning in the new era of the Common Core and other state standards. Furthermore, trained languages teachers have become more difficult to find and retain, especially for critical languages like Chinese.
The good news is that world language instruction, more than almost any other subject, is well suited to the online and blended learning environments. And we are not talking about rote memorization games or simple vocabulary builders. In the case of our courses, students and teachers have access to Middlebury College's gold-standard, world language curriculum, which is delivered through leading-edge technology.
What's more, students not only gain language skills but develop a deep understanding of the various cultures of the target language. Spanish students learn about culture and customs not only in Spain but in Latin America and Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in New York City. Elementary Chinese students discover the same fables and history as their counterparts in Beijing. This cultural focus helps get students excited about learning and understanding the world. And it wouldn't be possible for a vast majority of these schools without the technology to integrate authentic videos, animation and interactive activities into the courses.
All three of my daughters are at different schools. My oldest is at Catholic high school, one twin is at a small, private middle school and the other is in public middle school. (Yes, we have every educational base covered. And, yes, carpools are essential!) The good news is that all three have access to world language courses. Interestingly, the daughter attending public school is only learning Spanish because her school started using Middlebury Interactive courses this fall, a fact that makes me proud as a parent and a CEO.
As I travel around the country working with school districts, I find that parents really do make a difference. Parents can goad a school to bring in new online or blended learning courses. You can encourage school leaders to adopt new languages, like Chinese, to help students better prepare for the global economy. You can help create afterschool language clubs that extend the learning time outside of the classroom.
There are lot of little things parents do on a daily basis to help their kids become better students and global citizens. Working to bring more or better language instruction to your kids' schools is a big thing that will pay dividends for decades to come.
To learn how to bring the world to your child, please visit Middlebury Interactive's parents' page.
Here are additional resources in publications like The Economist CBC News Daily Mail, and Pacific Standard Magazine that explain how a second language has been linked to improved mental function and individual success.