By Jeffrey Nelson
As the world continues to shrink, the ability to speak a foreign language becomes more important for an individual's success. Whether he or she is interested in business, academics, medicine, or another discipline, it is imperative that someone be able to communicate with others in their native tongue. For this reason, many schools are adapting foreign language programs to meet today's changing demands.
Experts in the field have been studying the success of foreign language programs taught at various levels of education for years, and have identified a couple of areas that are critical for making language education more successful.
In many countries, scholars have noted that students are not exposed to foreign languages until they enter a secondary education program. The Center for Applied Linguistics conducted a comprehensive study from educators in 19 countries on language training in the early 2000s, and found a direct correlation between the age a student entered a language program and their proficiency in that foreign language.
Many European countries began their language training programs in school at ages as early as seven, while the United States waited until their students turned 14 to start language training. While European children and teenagers were proficient in foreign languages, the study found that U.S. children were far behind their counterparts who started at earlier ages.
It is no wonder then that many elementary schools in America today offer foreign language curriculum for students as soon as they enter school. There are even pre-schools in the world that are designed to foster the learning of foreign languages.
Teaching a foreign language is not as simple as teaching other school subjects, and it requires teachers who are specially trained for this task. These teachers need to have the subject matter mastered, and they need to be able to present it to children in a manner that is understandable to them.
To attract people who speak languages and could be good teachers, perhaps we need to look at paying foreign language teachers more money.
This would bring more highly trained speakers into education, and would give countries a larger pool of potential teachers. The Center for Applied Linguistics notes that teaching is seen as a valued profession, but an increase in pay would help attract those with language skills into teaching, instead of other careers. Higher pay would also incentivize good teachers to try and learn foreign languages in order to teach others.