Back in the 1960’s, linguist Noam Chomsky developed a theory called “Critical Period Hypothesis.” Chomsky stated that the time before puberty is the easiest time for children to learn world languages. Once children go through the puberty stage it’s more difficult to learn another language. Furthermore, Chomsky explains that while a child is going through puberty, his/her brain is more able to absorb abstract ideas. According to Jean Piaget, a renowned developmental psychologist, when children are going through the developmental stage, between the ages of 5-12, they are more open-minded and curious about the world beyond their own.
In the United States, the majority of our students are not exposed to world language courses until the age of 14. Chomsky believes that young adults have a harder time understanding new languages, because teenagers are usually concerned with the present. Everything they do must benefit their present self or else the value goes away. If an American teenager is learning French for the first time but has no desire to go to France, he or she will automatically see the learning experience as unhelpful.
By incorporating introductory world language classes into the elementary school curriculum, students will be able to learn a world language faster. Once they have a second language under their belts, it will be easier for them to learn a third or fourth language later on. Knowing a second language helps kids when they enter into the workforce, as many companies today find people who speak more than one language to be an asset. Providing world language courses to children can give them a leg up in the job market.
Unfortunately, there are many issues that don’t allow for every elementary school to have a world language curriculum. Many schools are constantly trying to revamp the primary subjects, including mathematics, science and literacy, to make those subjects more accessible to students. There are also very few teachers who know how to teach world languages to younger children, and not every school has the funding. With all of these factors driving elementary school curricula, the world language classes get put on the back burner.
America has always been referred to as a melting pot. Every day Americans work with people of all different cultures and languages. By incorporating world language instruction at the elementary level, we would enable the future leaders of America to communicate more effectively with the world around them.