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.