Saturday, October 29, 2016

Guest Post: World Languages

Welcome  aboard Pete the Pilot’s magic plane. You’re off to Mexico, where you’ll meet PanchitoMexico’s most popular Jumping Bean. You’ll follow his adventures, learn Spanish and live the culture. When you return home, you’ll practice using Spanish with friends and family.
This is the fun that awaits your child 6-10 and family in ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish.
¡HOLA! …is easy to use, no previous knowledge of Spanish is required. Just download the free audio version at and follow along with the book.
Activities include a treasure hunt, daily expressions, a skit, Culture Corner, a song and directions for making a Mexican mask. There are lots of great activities for parents to share with kids, and parents, caretakers, etc. can learn some Spanish.

I taught foreign languages – now known as “World Languages” in elementary, middle and high school until retirement. I have devoted these past years to many activities, including advocating for more and better foreign language programs in schools, and writing a series of books to introduce children to languages.

I wrote and illustrated¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish because I want every child in our country and the English-speaking world to have the opportunity to start learning a language at an early age.
World (aka foreign) languages have not been a priority in our country. Unlike other subjects, world languages have not progressed over the last 50 years! Requirements are low or non-existant. Only 15% of elementary schools offer any form of foreign language program.

As a result, the National Research Council has concluded that “America’s pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to complete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.”
Still, times have changed. Increasingly more people realize that we live in a multilingual, multicultural society and world. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 75% of the world neither speaks nor understands English.

Research has shown that the best time to begin study of a second language is in early childhood. More parents would like their children to start world language study early, and there are long waiting lists for dual bilingual language programs.

Here are some benefits of starting a language early:
  • greater cognitive ability
  • better thinking skills
  • greater mastery of one’s own language
  • more understanding and respect for other cultures
  • better appreciation of one’s own culture.

Children who begin to learn another language early can communicate directly with millions more people, and have better opportunities for employment. Because of the development of mental capacity, the onset of dementia in bilingual people can be delayed by up to five years.
And here’s another reason why children should start at a young age: Children have the capacity to acquire native pronunciation; their brains are wired to hear and reproduce any sound in any human language. We lose this ability at about 12 years of age, just when most American children start to study a world language, if at all. 

Maybe you know someone whose native language is not English, but who moved to your English-speaking country before age 12. Chances are that person speaks without a foreign accent.
My toddler grandchild  has an au pair girl who speaks to her only in Spanish. Of course, she is learning to speak English too, since she lives in the U.S. She repeats what she hears in native accent, and accepts the difference in languages without question. 

Children who start early will have more time to learn how to express the complexities of   human communication in another language. If they study for a sufficient number of years to become proficient, they may become eligible for the Seal of Biliteracy on their high school graduation record. Twenty-two states currently offer the seal, and many more are considering adopting the seal. This seal will show colleges and future employers that the student has a marketable skill.  See if your state offers the seal at .

We all want our children to have the best education we can provide them.  I want to enable parents to take this matter into their own hands, so that children and parents can have a pleasant experience and that children will be encouraged to continue study of the language.

By the way, the best way that you can encourage your child to love a language is to study it yourself! It sends a message to your child that you value language learning. Also, it’s fun for the family, a great way to bond, and you may want to plan a trip to a country that speaks the language, see movies, and make friends with natives so that you can practice. So please think of taking up the language yourself.

Hopefully there will be a FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) program in your child’s elementary school. If not, please ask your Board of Education to implement such a program. Go with like-minded parents; there is strength in numbers.

It takes many years to become proficient in a foreign language. Please see that your child has the tools to compete and flourish in today’s multicultural, multilingual world.

I am currently working on a book to introduce children to French, Bonjour! Let’s Learn French, and have books for other languages planned. Please visit my webpage at .

Whenever  I hear that the age for starting study of a foreign language has been lowered in another country,  I get envious! Why don’t our  kids in the U.S.  have the same opportunity for early language learning that exist in other countries??

Many will answer: “the whole world speaks English, so why bother?”
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 75% of the world neither speaks nor understands English.

Currently, only about 15% of elementary schools in the U. lifelong benefits of starting to learn a language early? Here are some, supported by research:
So, why is language learning so undervalued in the U.S.? There are many explanations which I understand, and most which I don’t accept. I just saw this alarming figure: less than 1% of Americans who study a foreign language are proficient in that language.*As a result
 So, this is what inspired me to write and illustrate ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish.  Every child should begin learning a world language at an early age. How would we do in math or any other subject for that matter if we waited until 7th grade to begin it?

Most American students begin study of a world language at age 12 or 14, if at all. This is just the age when pre-teens are becoming self-conscious and concerned with their image vis-à-vis the opposite sex, not wanting to make fools of themselves, not the best mindset for learning a language!
After several years of fruitless lobbying in AlbanyN.Y. and Washington,
D.C., I concluded that providing a book on beginning Spanish and other languages for parents to use and enjoy with their children was the best way to get people excited about foreign languages. So, I wrote five books, each to introduce children to a different language, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and Arabic. The writing evolved over ten years as my colleagues gave me advice. I sent the manuscript to an editor, and taught myself Indesign. I love to draw; my teaching tools were always full of illustrations, so I did the illustrations for the Spanish book, taught myself Photoshop painting, and enhanced the drawings in photoshop.

The book is easy to use, no previous knowledge of Spanish is required, just download the free audio version at and follow along with the book. Check it out on Amazon at in print or kindle (t/c).

Here’s a short summary: Kids 6-10 take an imaginary plane trip to Mexico, where they meet PanchitoMexico’s favorite Jumping Bean. They follow his adventures, learn Spanish and are drawn into the culture. Activities follow to practice Spanish with friends and family. These include a treasure hunt, daily fun expressions, a skit, Culture Corner, a song and directions for making a Mexican mask.

I am currently working on a book to introduce children to French, Bonjour! Let’s Learn French, and have books for other languages planned.

*Nancy Rhodes, “Elementary School Foreign Language Teaching
*less than 1% ..The
*America’s pervasive..Executive Summary”, National Research Council

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