Much debate has taken place over when foreign language education should begin in American schools. Currently, the majority of foreign language programs are ineffective and poorly organized. Programs would be most substantially improved if the instruction of foreign languages began in early elementary grades. Teaching foreign languages to American students at the elementary level would be truly beneficial for several reasons.
Firstly, if the study of a second language were to begin in elementary grades, children would have more years to practice and learn the language. It is ridiculous that teenagers are expected to speak a foreign language fluently after two to four years of high school language classes. More time is needed to comprehend and absorb a language to the point where it can be spoken fluently. Therefore, it is necessary for foreign language education to begin much earlier than in high school.
Furthermore, foreign language education would be much more effective if were taught at elementary grade levels because children are more likely to practice the language. They are less likely to feel uncomfortable speaking in a foreign language. Most children like having an extra ability and consider it a talent. Young children are also very competitive. Competitions over who has greater proficiency in a second language are likely to ensue in an elementary language class. Young children are also more likely to participate in activities that help one to learn a language such as singing songs and engaging in hypothetical dialogue.
In contrast, high school students have a much harder time learning a second language. "Only three percent of American high school graduates reach a meaningful proficiency in a second language." (Crawford 2) This astonishing statistic could be altered if foreign language education was mandated in all American elementary schools.
High school students are met with great difficulty when attempting to learn a second language because they are much less passionate; they are not interested in learning another language after English has been mastered. Also, high school students are easily embarrassed. They do not participate in class for fear of making a mistake and feeling unintelligent. They also do not enjoy playing games and engaging in other silly activities that might help them learn a second language.
Many believe that teaching young children a second language can be a threat to their general education. It is thought that a child's mind can be clouded by an attempt to learn a second language. However, "psycholinguists have long since debunked the myth that bilingualism confuses the brain." No valid negative effects can be traced to learning a foreign language at a young age.
With foreign language education beginning at the elementary level, chances for the mastery of a second language are much higher. Children who learn a second language benefit greatly from the ability. They tend to be more cultured and are offered more scholastic and occupational opportunities.
The quality of adult life for today's children would be greatly improved if they were able to master a second language. However, this can only take place if foreign language education programs were altered in most American schools. It is imperative for the instruction of foreign languages to begin at the elementary level if greater opportunities for success are desired for America's youth.