Parker's Lower School World Language Program offers the best of both worlds
By Lori Foote '94
From Junior Kindergarten through Grade 3, students spend part of the school day learning either Spanish or Mandarin. These lessons keep young children engaged while they become acclimated to the world’s two most-spoken languages: Spanish and Mandarin. More than 900 million people speak Mandarin and more than 400 million speak Spanish, according to 2010 estimates, which are likely to have grown substantially over the past seven years.
It might seem challenging to take on two additional languages during a time of life when a child’s English skills are still developing. To adults who have tried to learn even one other language, it might sound insurmountable. Yet Parker’s academic program is grounded in research that reveals that children of young ages are ideally suited to absorbing the vocabulary and structure of multiple languages simultaneously. Class time is filled with entertaining activities that package new words and new forms of speaking in fun and engaging ways.
“We have high expectations for all our students, but we also want the program to be fun and engaging,” said Spanish teacher Jamie Herold.
Herold works alongside her fellow language teachers, including those who teach Mandarin, and together they have created this program from scratch. Collaboration allows for a better—and uniquely Parker—learning experience. Being engaged by Spanish and Mandarin on alternating days not only provides regular exposure to both languages, but also positions students to interact with each language separately while experiencing authentic connections between the two.
The program is called “cross-directional” because of its dual plane: students learn within one language while also identifying similarities and differences between the two. Where traditional language instruction may begin with grammar, Parker’s program focuses on speaking and experiencing each language and culture studied, drawing in the young audience and showing students how words and sentences fit within the context of daily life. Project-based assignments, extended written language development and the incorporation of technology provide opportunities for variance within the program.
As students move toward Grade 3, they delve deeper into each language while cultivating a broader worldview.
“The learning experience leads to an outcome of our students loving language,” Herold said. “They become lifetime language-learners who will travel the world using their language skills to interact with different cultures and truly become global citizens.”
Developing students who are positioned to absorb new languages excites Parker language teachers who assume the primary role in building a language-learning foundation, which is crucial for the future. Beginning in Grade 4, students who were exposed to both Spanish and Mandarin during their primary years select one language to continue with in Grades 4 and 5, progressing toward the college preparatory language study that takes place in Middle School.
Parents are keenly aware of the advantages that the dual-language program provides their children. “These compact, consistent doses of language expose our child’s brain to wire new neural paths as they try to make sense of different languages,” said Fernanda Lee, whose daughter, Katerina, is in Grade 3. “The brain is flushed with these everyday impulses that exercise the brain in a way that no other stimuli can, and consequently, helps them in other subjects at school.
“[Our daughter has] built confidence through persevering in learning something that can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first,” she added.
The connection between language and culture is an important part of Parker’s approach to world languages at all levels of instruction. From the very first years at the School, students build a curiosity about other cultures, which leads to an authentic interest in participating in a global society—in ways that go beyond simply speaking, reciting, writing and listening.