In the book, Critical Issues in Early Second Language Learning: Building for Our Children’s Future Myriam Met collected a series of essays and studies on foreign language study in early childhood (abstract).
In sum, the essays assert that learning a second language at an early age…
- Has a positive effect on intellectual growth.
- Enriches and enhances a child’s mental development.
- Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.
- Improves a child’s understanding of his or her native language.
- Gives a child the ability to communicate with people he or she would otherwise not have had the chance to know.
- Opens the door to other cultures and helps the child understand and appreciate people from other countries.
- Gives the child a head start in language requirements for college.
- Increases job opportunities in many careers in which knowing another language is a real asset.
An interesting point that is made in the book is that skills in more traditional disciplines like math and English do not suffer as a result of the time taken away for language study. In fact, the contrary was found to be true.
The book does not make much of a distinction about whether these benefits are more pronounced with an immersion program or not. I tend to think that if you care about having your child learn and retain another language, immersion is the best method. Given these benefits, I was somewhat surprised to learn that only a few area schools offer language immersion programs. The only elementary schools in the Greater Philadelphia region that I know of that offer elementary school language immersion are (alphabetically):
- Folk Arts Cultural Treasures (FACTS) Charter School (Chinese, Philadelphia Charter)
- French International School of Philadelphia (French, Bala Cynwyd Private)
- Independence Charter (Spanish, Philadelphia Charter)
- Perelman Jewish Day School (Hebrew, Wynnewood and Melrose Park Private Religiously Affiliated)
- YingHua International School (Chinese, Lawrenceville and Princeton, NJ Private School)
Please let me know if I left any out.
Personally, it is important to me that my kids have exposure to another language at an early age. Immersion programs are attractive to me, but not essential. A school that has no foreign language programs in the early grades may automatically be taken off of the list of schools that I am considering.