November 24, 2014

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Report: Teach foreign language in kindergarten

COLUMBUS — Two major reports this fall on foreign language teaching in Ohio have reached the same conclusion: the state must start providing long, uninterrupted stretches of instruction as early as kindergarten and stop repeating material year after year.

Students “begin again and again with, ‘Hello, how are you?’ as they move from one school to the next rather than advancing to more challenging material,” according to a report released this month by the state’s Foreign Language Advisory Council.

Language classes lasting for just nine, 12 or 16 weeks are common throughout the state, the report said.

The 39-page report also says the state must increase instruction in less-traditional languages like Chinese and Arabic while continuing to teach western languages like French and Spanish.

Ohio’s students need opportunities to learn a broader range of languages in order to prepare them for future economic, diplomatic, educational and personal endeavors,” the report said.

The findings are similar to those of another report, the “Ohio Language Roadmap for the 21st Century,” issued by business groups, government officials and educators earlier this fall.

Among other things, the federally funded study called for extended language teaching beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school, with priority given to Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

“For producing high-ability graduates, the length of time students are exposed to quality language training is the best indicator of consistently achieving success,” said the roadmap report, funded by the U.S. departments of Commerce, Defense and Labor.

Among the Foreign Language Advisory Council’s recommendations:

— Require that all students take a foreign language and base a student’s credit on proficiency in the language.

— Increase the number of qualified language teachers in the state and improve foreign-language teaching overall through new requirements such as giving teachers oral tests in a language before they are licensed.

— Expand the number of intensive summer or enrichment programs to allow students to get an early start on less frequently taught languages like Chinese, Russian, Arabic or Japanese.

The report also said the state is not taking advantage of the many online opportunities for teaching a foreign language. It recommended using distance learning and video-conferencing with native speakers to bring language classes to all parts of the state.

The roadmap report reached a similar conclusion. “Having technologically-networked programs would allow small groups of students interested in studying a language not offered locally to combine with similar groups across the state and form complete language classes,” the report said.

All students, and not just top performers or those headed for college, should take a language, said Deborah Robinson, world languages consultant for the Ohio Department of Education.

Language instruction can help boost performance in other study areas and improve results on standardized tests, she said.

“It’s actually average kids who benefit the most from participation in a language program,” Robinson said Wednesday.

Lawmakers created the Foreign Language Advisory Council last year as part of an education bill. The Education Department hopes to see the council’s recommendations enacted in time for the 2014-15 school year, said spokeswoman Julie Daubenmire.

Senate Education Chairwoman Joy Padgett says the world has changed since she was a school girl studying Spanish without really being able to speak it.

“As we see other countries making English such a dominant language, it’s extremely important we start making sure our students also have language skills,” said Padgett, a Coshocton Republican.