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Lillian Friars

Dr. Alexander

Foundations of Education

10 November 2017

Teaching a Second Language in Elementary School

In the United States today, the focus of elementary education is teaching a variety of

subjects such as math, science, social studies, language arts, reading and art to develop basic

skills and gain a high level of content knowledge. However, one subject not taught in elementary

schools today is a foreign language. Our county does not have any national requirement for

students to learn a foreign language, yet nationally nearly 10% of students in public school are

ESL learners (English Language Learners in Public Schools). Today only 15% of elementary

schools teach a second language to students, compared to 73% of primary schools in Europe.

Along with this, over 20 European countries require students to learn at least two foreign

languages in school (Fisher).

One of the best times in life to learn a new language is during elementary school during

the Critical Learning Period. Adolescence learn best during this period because they reach the

highest level of understand of language during this time (Critical Period Hypothesis). This stage

of learning is most noticeable between age 6 and 7, but the learning period may extend through

puberty (Edmonds). In schools today, most students take language courses during their middle

and high school years. Although many students are still able to learn a new language, it becomes

much harder after adolescence are no longer in the Critical Learning Period.
Many benefits have shown connections between learning a new language and academic

achievement among students. Benefits for students learning a foreign language are increased

cognitive abilities, higher scores on standardized tests, higher attention span and listening skills,

better working memory and increased creativity (Learning a Second Language: When & Why).

A study by Wilburn Robinson in 1992 reviewed 144 research studies from over three decades

reviewing the relationship between cognitive ability and learning a second language. In

conclusion to this study, Robinson concluded “early experience with two language systems

seems to leave children with "a mental flexibility, a superiority in concept formation, and a more

diversified set of mental abilities” (Why Aren’t We Teaching a Second Language in Public

Elementary Schools?).

"Critical period hypothesis." Teaching English, BBC. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

Edmonds, Molly. "What's the best age to learn a new language? ." How Stuff Works. Accessed10 Nov.


Fisher, Gabriel. "Many European kids learn two foreign languages by age 9. Most Americans? Zero."

Quartz. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

"Learning a Second Language: When & Why." District Administration . Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

"The Condition of Education." National Center for Education Stastistics , U.S. Department of Education.

Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

"Why Aren't We Teaching a Second Language in Public Elementary Schools?." Edutopia , George Lucas

Educational Foundation, 30 Mar. 2016. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.