Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Implications and Best Practices- Conclusion & Thesis Statement

Based on the research I found in both scholarly journals and on informational websites, results seemed unanimous in pointing to the importance of second language acquisition at an early age. Not only does this practice stimulate the mind more-so than in a monolingual situation, it offers children an opportunity to take different perspectives on learning and therefore, become more tolerant and globalized citizens as they grow and learn about the world.

Implications and Best Practices should therefore include a nation-wide law that mandates the exposure to at least one language in school by age 5. The children I taught in Italy began English classes at the age of 6, only because Italians wait one extra year to attend a full day of school. However, this instruction is mandatory right from the beginning, and very effective. Young Italian students start with the basics, as I would propose the American education system should exercise, learning colors, numbers, weather, and simple phrases, such as "Hi, my name is..."

While I saw most growth and a positive trajectory out of my first-year Italian students, I also got a glimpse of their futures in the 5th grade class that I taught. These students were all English-speaking students that had come from all over the world (Japan, USA, England, etc), but had an English-fluency level that surpassed the material that their Italian cohorts were learning in the 5th grade. It was my job to maintain their English through interacting with them and reading and responding to more challenging literature. One of my 5th grade students, Sienna, was born in Japan and had lived all over the world. She was fluent in English, Italian, Japanese and Spanish, and hadn't even reached her teenage years! Oliver, another one of my students, was an incredibly challenging child, but even still, fluent in both English and Italian! When I asked them how they had learned their languages so well, their common responses usually expressed that they were "thrown in" to the situation, with minimal instruction, but some guidance and scaffolding to speed up the process. In Sienna's case, one or both of her parents spoke a combination of the languages. Oliver, on the other hand, had moved to Italy with his mother after her divorce, and he became responsible for communicating for the two of them.

Either way, my experience in Italy has confirmed my belief that language acquisition is easier (almost second-nature) at an early age, and therefore, the United States needs to work harder to integrate foreign languages into curriculums to boost standardized testing scores, cognitive abilities, and analytical abilities. Perhaps doing so will even help dissolve the cultural barriers between children and their peers, and also students and their teachers. Respecting the culture of others will provide a much healthier learning environment that allows education on the same playing-field. In Italy, I was constantly referred to as the "ignorant American" (always said in Italian, because they thought I didn't understand), and I think that this is a direct result of our lack of attention to learning other languages. Children have grown up believing that everyone speaks English and are often appalled when they realize that not everyone is able to communicate with them.

While I know that the US has started implementing more language programs in schools, it is obvious that they still have a long way to go in getting everyone involved. However, it is clear that the importance of early language acquisition has been recognized, and is gaining attention. I am sure that a lot of legalities and money are involved in turning plans into realities, but I am certain that everything will eventually be taken care of and the vision of the "ignorant American" will slowly dissolve in future generations.

Thesis statement: All children are capable of learning a second language and those who begin instruction at an early age see advantages in areas including, but not limited to, cognitive ability, social interaction, academic performance and cultural understanding.

In-School Methods for Teaching Second Languages

Teaching a Second Language at the Elementary School Level


At this age, children's minds are very malleable, and they are open and receptive to new ideas and perspectives. They are very curious, and not yet exhausted from the learning process (Alleyne, 2010).

Also, learning a language takes time; so starting students early will bring them to a higher proficiency level. Instead, starting students in high school will make acquisition longer, as students have already been molded by their previous teachers, and often have opposition to learning a new language when it does not seem "necessary" (Alleyne, 2010).

Learning a second language in elementary school can boost achievement in other areas of academics. Research has shown an increase in brain functioning, analyzing and performance on standardized tests (Alleyne, 2010).


During this age, children enjoy interaction. They love to be told stories and they love to dress up and act. Integrating culture and role-play into the day's language lesson will give teachers a higher level of cooperation and new-knowledge-retention (Alleyne, 2010).

According to ACTFL (American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages), there are 5 instructions to teaching a foreign language in an elementary setting:

1. Language lessons should be held every other day for a total of 75 minutes per week. Simultaneously introduce the culture of the language so children have an interest and basis for understanding.

2. Decide which approach you want to use as an educator based on intensity level. Options include the Foreign Language Experience Program (FLEX), the Foreign Language in the Elementary School programs (FLES) and immersion programs that incorporate the language into other school programs.

3. Use educational materials that involve methods of writing, reading and conversation of the chosen language. Begin on a very basic level and then build onto the material.

4. Use reinforcement and consistency instead of memorization techniques. Always include background information on the culture.

5. Label the classroom items in the selected language. Review basics (such as colors, numbers and the alphabet) daily to maintain a fresh and cemented understanding (Masi, 2011).

Addressed here are the basic standards to second language education at the elementary level. A deeper explanation for each of these points is listed on the Center for Applied Linguistics website.

Monday, April 4, 2011

At-Home Methods for Teaching Second Languages

Children are capable of learning a language at home, and parents can use many different strategies to engage their young learners. The article "Learning a second language in the family," in "Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner" demonstrates a case study of a Korean family that moved to England and had to learn to speak the native language. Through English storybook reading and role play, these Korean children learned to respond and communicate appropriately in the English language. They also acted out "English school" in order to prepare themselves for real school in their new language. The parents also ensured that many family members of varying English ability communicated with the children so that the children could interact on different levels and learn through scaffolding, while finding learning a second language to be fun (Mitchell & Lee, 2008).

Specifically, the Korean children brought home English books of interest for reading. Usually, the children would read to their mother, who would facilitate conversation in English as often as possible. When necessary, the mother used codeswitching to clarify a new English concept (Mitchell & Lee, 2008).

The first lessons were focused on vocabulary development and pronunciation, so that the children had a basis for eventually forming full, English sentences. By the end of the case study, episodes were recorded on a level closer to fluency, as seen in the printed transcriptions in the text (Mitchell & Lee, 2008).


By reading the dialogues, it is clear that this type of home literacy was effective for the Korean children. Texts were short and attractive to the children's age levels and included stimulating and conversation-provoking illustrations. Sometimes, the texts were just slightly above the functioning level of the children, allowing for scaffolding to take place through the mother's guidance. The children also supported and encouraged each other's learning, through their own scaffolding and linguistics. They also collaborated in roleplay and used their imaginations to make learning English a fun activity (Mitchell & Lee, 2008).

The children also learned so well because while they were "studying," they were having fun; and according to the text, "[p]lay is seen as central to all aspects of early childhood education, including first language development" (Mitchell & Lee, 2008). The children were actively able to create their own learning and development, simply because they were entertained and eager to have fun. For example "playing school" made an otherwise daunting task both creative and fun, while teaching the children throughout the whole experience (Mitchell & Lee, 2008)

The conclusion posits that "young L2 learners should be seen as 'active, competent and intentional' participants in the language learning process (Mitchell & Lee, 2008). Therefore, if parents are seeking to teach their children a second language at home, they should abide by these guidelines and exercise patience and creativity in designing their "lesson plans."

How Do You Teach a Second Language? lists five, clear steps for teaching a second language to a child in the home:

1. Educate yourself on early childhood language instruction, as teaching a foreign language to children is much different than teaching to adolescents and adults. Use interactive activities instead of memorization drills. Use verbal communication instead of sedentary writing and reading, so that the child can interact with the new language and understand the reason for using it.

2. Have a collection of foreign language materials that are age-appropriate. Textbooks that intend to teach the language are often too difficult for young children, so simple poems and songs coupled with arts and crafts activities will help the child to learn a second language.

3. Be sure to interact in the foreign language, so that the instruction is integrated throughout the day and not just apparent during "lesson time." During routine activities, such as meal time or bath time, start by saying the sentences in mother tongue and then repeating those sentences in the second language. As time progresses, switch to the reverse and finally, only the foreign language.

4. Use cultural materials that inadvertently educate the children. Look for books and movies on children growing up in the respective foreign country, so that your child can relate on an age-appropriate level and explain what you don't understand.

5. Introduce your children to native speakers, especially if you speak with a non-second language accent. It is important that the child understands the natural inflection of the second language when it is spoken as the mother tongue.


Suggested Second Language Instruction Materials for Home Use

I have found two strong aids for second language instruction that I believe can be used in conjunction with the aforementioned 5 steps for teaching a second language. 


The first program is MUZZY, with which I have personal experience from my childhood. MUZZY is an excellent program because it is divided by age, so children can start learning a second language as soon as their parents are ready to purchase the program. 

Under MUZZY's logo, the words "Window of Opportunity" are listed, further suggesting my belief that second language acquisition comes at an early age.

"MUZZY follows national foreign language standards, which emphasize the use of functional language, repetition, and 'spiraling'. In MUZZY, words and concepts are first introduced, and then introduced again and again in many new contexts" ( This method is stressed in Step 3, of eHow's aforementioned article. MUZZY uses a multi-sensory and multi-layered technique, and each lesson is a foundation for the next. It is effective for all types of learners. The series follows an exciting story line that is intriguing to children. It incorporates a love story, friendship with the iconic green monster, and trouble with a villain. The entire performance is carried out in the second language, with a manual and flash-cards in the native language to use for reference. When I had MUZZY, I received a set of 4 VHS tapes, 2 audio cassettes (to listen to the same story on tape), a CDrom with interactive computer games for language application, and a script manual. I know that at this point, the VHS tapes have been substituted for DVDs, but the rest of the learning materials are more or less the same.


This is the first commercial advertisement for Muzzy, which enticed my father to buy the program for my brother and me, and also made it popular. Based on the current website, the company has added vocabulary DVDs and additional manuals to strengthen the program. 

It looks like this may be the more recent advertisement for an updated MUZZY.

It is also important to note that while it advertises being a positive program for all ages, the actual numerical listing of the series stops at age 12, where the range "8 to 12+" is written. Clearly, the "plus-sign" is depicted for marketing purposes, but BBC is also acknowledging the critical period for learning a second language, and highlighting that it may end around age 12.


I am not as familiar with the "Little Pim" program, but it seems to work with the same idea as MUZZY, including a lovable non-human protagonist and his stories and interactions with the world around him. It is different, however, in that it also incorporates real human children doing familiar activities to engage the young viewers. This is equally called a "foreign language immersion program" that combines animation and real children to teach everyday grammar and vocabulary in a realistic context. It also offers a few more language choices than MUZZY.

This video explains the concept behind "Little Pim," and stresses the importance of starting early when teaching languages to children. It therefore embraces the critical language concept that is still constantly debated, despite the very positive support for it. There is even an entire page of the website, dedicated to supporting the research on the critical language period, and linking customers to scientific support of their claim.

I am most intrigued by this paragraph, discussing "Little Pim's" method:

Little Pim DVDs are designed and paced for developing minds. Young children respond enthusiastically to Little Pim’s format, a combination of animation and live action. Babies respond to black and white, therefore the panda captures the attention of even the youngest viewers. Each 35-minute DVD is segmented into seven 5-minute episodes to accommodate a young child’s attention span and encourage pausing for parent interaction. Simple sentences are broken down into easy-to-understand parts, and reinforced through repetition.

The color concept is something that I had never considered, but makes a lot of sense, obviously rendering this program very successful. I also like the idea of breaking up the lessons into 5-minute clips. A 35-minute lesson seems simple and unproductive to a college-aged student like myself, but makes a lot of sense in keeping the young learner's attention and allowing him/her the opportunity to interact and gain reinforcement from parents.

Therefore, there is plenty of support for at-home methods of teaching languages, and many resources for parents planning to educate their children on second languages in this way.

A Study Comparing Monolingual and Bilingual Migrant Children in Europe

I have found an excellent study on monolingualism versus bilingualism that I feel confirms that early acquisition of a second language fosters the best grasp of that second language.

Yazici, Ilter, and Glover's article, "How bilingual is bilingual? Mother-tongue proficiency and learning through a second language," begins by introducing the role of the mother tongue in children's lives. It states that language acquisition, whether first or second, follows the same developmental trajectory. Furthermore, language is so valuable because it allows people to communicate with others and understand the world, but also acquire cultural understanding, values and social rules and norms (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010). Therefore, it becomes evident that learning a second language is beneficial to a child's cultural outlook, and allows him/her the opportunity to take perspectives outside of his/her own.

The authors define first-language acquisition as something that takes place from birth, amidst close family members. Second-language acquisition is different from mother-tongue acquisition in that it additionally takes place outside of the home. Therefore, the use of these two languages in their respective, appropriate scenarios is known as bilingualism. Children in the bilingual scenario are delicate cases, as poor management of two different languages can lead to marginalization. Those who do not feel wholly part of either culture (of which both languages they speak) may find themselves unable to identify with either culture, creating personality or identity problems and barriers to communication and integration within the society. However, proper integration with both cultures is very positive, as children can  experience psychological acculturation and understanding. In addition, parents of bilingual children must be aware of when their languages are used. If the second language is only used in the academic setting and the mother-tongue is strictly used in the home environment, children might attribute the second language to success and experience weakness in the mother tongue. This in turn may create emotional difficulties in the home environment (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010).

The authors fully stress bilingualism, as long as its instruction is positively carried out. Based on their research, the authors have found that across several countries, bilingual school programs have had positive effects on second language acquisition and self-esteem. They state, "[b]ilingual education supports children's personal development and assists a positive exchange between the two languages and cultures. This can contribute to self-esteem and mutual respect"(Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010). Therefore, bilingual education within schools is an excellent strategy for involving migrant children and native children in both cultural awareness, personal comfort, and academic success.

The learning of a second language is highly dependent on the effectiveness with which a child learned his/her mother tongue. Children with high grammar and vocabulary levels in their mother tongues have reportedly found it easier to learn a new language within the school setting and consequently, read and wrote more fluently and earlier. Therefore, the higher the mother-tongue competence, the greater readiness for reading in either the first or second languages (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010).

After listing the information on acquisition and readiness in children both at home and at school, the authors mapped out a study, where they tested their research findings against realistic scenarios. The subjects included pre-school children from Turkish migrant families in three European countries (Germany, Austria and Norway) and compared them to children of similar backgrounds brought up in Turkey. All children in the study were bilingual; however, none of them were part of a bilingual school program. Therefore, the mother-tongue was only encountered within the home environment, with some parents attempting to use both in hopes to accelerate the second-language acquisition. The authors used two tests, the Descoudres Vocabulary Test and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to assess various language categories (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010).

In the following years, children in certain families lost fluency in the mother tongue, as emphasis was placed on second-language acquisition for success in the academic setting. The conclusion therefore states that focusing on second language development is important, but that adequate attention must still be paid towards mother-tongue competence if children are to benefit from biculturalism and social integration. Bilingual education programs in early childhood would therefore be very beneficial to children's education, bringing them acculturation and ability to speak, understand and read/write both languages equally and without favoritism towards one or the other (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010).

Implications for this study are transferrable to the education of all children that are not necessarily migrant. Bilingual programs can also contribute to education by providing the cognitive and metalinguistic benefits of bilingualism to all young students. This will enable migrant and non-migrant children to reach a better understanding of one another and the varying cultural backgrounds and experiences from which they come.

This study is just as applicable to the American education system, as the United States is viewed as the "melting pot," with cultures varying even within just one state. Offering bicultural education will create less prejudices among children and a natural increased academic ability within schools. Awareness for the other plays a huge role in a child's personal success, both academically and socially, because comfort within one's culture is the launching point for self-improvement and understanding.

Here is a video explaining the benefits of bilingual/bicultural education in young children. It discusses the critical period for learning a second language, and demonstrates the implications of the aforementioned study on the American education system and its children.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Alleyne, A. (2010). Benefits of teaching a foreign language in elementary school. Retrieved from

Dimroth, C. (2008). Perspectives on second language acquisition at different ages. In Philp, J., Oliver, R., Mackey, A., Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner (53-75). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Halgunseth, L. (date unknown). How children learn a second language. Retrieved from

Masi, K. (2011). How to teach Spanish as a second language in elementary school. Retrieved from

MiriamK (date unknown). How to teach a foreign language to young children. Retrieved from

Mitchell, R. & Lee, C. N. (2008) Learning a second language in the family. In Philp, J., Oliver, R., Mackey, A. Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner (254-277). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

No listed author. (2011) How Muzzy Works. Retrieved from

No listed author. (2011) Little Pim. Retrieved from

Walton, B. (2007). More children learn more than one language. USA Today. Retrieved from

Yazici, Z., Ilter, B.G., Glover, P. (2010). How bilingual is bilingual? Mother-tongue proficiency and learning through a second language. International Journal of Early Years Education, 18:3, 259-268. doi: 10.1080/09669760.2010.521297

Age Effects in Second Language Learning

Christine Dimroth's essay, entitled "Perspectives on second language acquisition at different ages" in Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner discusses the affect of age on the rate of second language acquisition in children. In her "Maturational Approaches" section, Dimroth discusses neurobiological development and the ability to absorb grammar and syntax in new language acquisition (2008).

The Maturational Approach suggests that age effects in second language acquisition work together with biological maturation and therefore, are linked to the growth in language capacity as the child matures. The small "window" for reaching native fluency of a second language closes after the brain matures. While this signifies that children can no longer speak a second language at a level that makes native speakers unable to find flaws, children are still capable of learning the language to a very successful proficiency level. However, these critical age periods vary across studies (Dimroth, 2008).

According to the Usage-Based Approach, advocates of this perspective say that language rules are constructed through constant manipulation and use of that particular language. Under this theory, children learning a second language are usually unable to master the language at a native level because their systems are already developed and constructed for their first language. Interference therefore creates a barrier for learning a second language to the fullest extent (Dimroth, 2008).

These two perspectives therefore support my opinion that learning a second language before the critical period ends allows children the opportunity to reach native-fluency.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why is Learning Another Language So Important?

According to this article, "bilingual children have performed better than monolingual speakers on measures of analytical ability, concept formation, cognitive flexibility, and metalinguistic skills."

Also, despite the overwhelming belief of the importance of learning English as soon as possible in the United States, ESL students that learn material in their native language while simultaneously learning English have proven academically and socially stronger than their English-only peers.

My thoughts: Perhaps this is related to the fact that bilingual students are able to take a dual perspective on their educational and social attainments? Because their brain is working differently and crossing over from one language to another in order to perceive and analyze information, these children may be more progressive in their thought processes and also more confident in their social abilities, as a result of successful identification with two cultures.