Q; Can you briefly describe the foreign language program currently in the Needham Public Schools?
A: In Needham currently, students begin either Spanish or French in 6th grade. They continue studying that language at Pollard as well. At the high school we offer French, Spanish, Latin and Mandarin. Students who want to study Mandarin at the high school can begin their study of Mandarin in 8th grade.
Q: Has it always been like this?
A: From 1992 to 2006 Spanish was taught in the elementary schools. Mandarin was added to the high school ten years ago and the 8th grade Mandarin course was added last year. In 2002 German began to be phased out due to very low enrollment.
Q: Has Needham studied the question of elementary foreign language instruction since it was removed from the schools in 2006?
A: In 2011-12 the Needham Public Schools conducted a World Languages Program Review. The report from that Review was presented to the School Committee in November 2012 and is available on the district website. As part of the Program Review we surveyed parents, students, world language teachers and other communities. Survey respondents reported the following:
- 92% of parents would like world language instruction to begin in the elementary schools
- 72% of students (in grades 8-12) wish they had started their study of world language in elementary school
- 100% of the world language teachers believe students would benefit from beginning their study of a world language in elementary school
- 30% of other communities begin world language study in elementary school (in 2014 that has grown to 47%)
Q: Are there benefits to beginning foreign language instruction in elementary school?
A: The research is clear that studying a world language in elementary school is beneficial to students. In terms of language acquisition children in elementary school are sponges for language and great mimics. They acquire language through experiences and have native-like pronunciation. They are open to new ideas and fascinated by learning about different cultures. Learning a second language also develops the brain in ways that benefit the child in all subject areas.
Some resources include:
"Cognitive Benefits of Learning Languages" from the Duke Talent Identification Program Digest of Gifted Research
A compilation of research addressing the benefits of early world language study to cognition, academic achievement and cultural awareness
Q: If the override passes, can you describe what a typical third grader will have in his/her school week related to foreign language?
A: Spanish instruction will begin in first grade if the override passes. In 3rd, 4th and 5th grades students will have a Spanish class for 40 minutes twice a week. An elementary Spanish teacher will come to the classroom and teach beginning Spanish lessons to the students. The focus will be on communication -- primarily listening and speaking as students learn to talk about themselves and the world around them. They will learn songs, play games, practice talking with each other and engage in other fun activities. Students will also begin to learn about Spanish-speaking countries and cultures.
In each subsequent year the curriculum will expand -- students next year in 3rd grade will be beginning Spanish, but in the following year they will have already had Spanish in 2nd grade so the 3rd grade curriculum will change to take that into account.