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This area provides you with best practice information on how to advocate for early language learning. We will continue to add information here as it becomes available.


Media Resources
NNELL Power Point for Conference Presentations

Ginny Staugaitis' presentation to the Board of Education


Research Links to Use When Advocating for Early Language Learning

Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools (Results of a National Survey)

This executive summary by Nancy C. Rhodes and Ingrid Pufahl outlines the changes between the 1997 and 2008 surveys of world language professionals in both public and private schools. The changes included those at both the elementary and secondary levels in the following areas: languages taught, program types, scheduling, curriculum and instruction paradigms, as well as educational reform. Some trends indicated are:


Fostering Second Language Development in Young Children

Though this article by Barry McLaughlin was written in 1995, its content is largely still valid. The article is meant for teachers teaching children whose native and target languages may be different. It helps dispel some of the myths that exist about second language learning and is meant for teachers unfamiliar with how second languages are learned. It seeks to help teachers understand the benefits of both languages and explains how to guide students to success in both languages without leaving the child’s own language behind.



Bilingualism's Brain Benefits

In this science notebook by Shankar Vedantam on the brain benefits of bilingualism, three studies conducted in Canada, India and Hong Kong, demonstrate that bilingualism may help to offset age-related declines in some mental performances. In the studies mentioned in this brief report, the response times of bilingual individuals and monolingual individuals were measured while distracted. The bilingual individuals in each study outperformed the monolinguals.



How Global Language Learning Gives Students the Edge

In this report, author Dan Fost cautions that we must “shed our reluctance to speak any language other than English.” Fost believes more [monolingual, English-speaking] students need to travel to other countries, citing as a central reason, “that kind of firsthand experience provides critical incentive to learn -- [that is, when] students make friends in other countries, they want to improve their language skills. The financial cost for overseas, interscholastic exchange can be expensive. Still, as Fost describes, there are a number of ways, by means of which intercultural exchange and language study can be deepened, without going abroad.

Bilingual Brain

This article was written by the Society of Neuroscience to share information based in hard science on why the bilingual brain is stronger cognitively and how scientists believe it fights off the effects of dementia. It is well researched and provides an easy overview of the findings. It was written in 2008 and more recent studies, albeit similar, have been written since then.



Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power

A researcher from Toronto has helped to pinpoint some of the basic brain benefits that bilinguals enjoy. Studies show that the brain of a bilingual person keeps both languages active even if they are only speaking one. This means that the brain is always working to distinguish which language should be used in a given situation, providing a sort of mental exercise that helps keep cognitive pathways strong and healthy. These brain benefits help bilinguals perform better on certain cognitive tasks that required focusing on important information and avoiding distractions. Finally, researchers believe this kind of mental exercise may help delay the onset of dementia in older bilingual adults.


Technology Cannot Replace Human Interaction

This blog from Little River School comments on a study done by brain researcher Patricia Kuhl. Her research shows that babies who were exposed to language learning videos only failed to have any measurable gain in ability to distinguish languages, but babies who were exposed to new languages through interactions with humans made remarkable progress. The study has implications for teachers who are deciding how much technology to incorporate into their classrooms.


Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language at the Elementary Level

A recent article, Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language at the Elementary Level, published on the Web site Bright Hub, reinforces what those in the profession have been advocating for years: early language learning. The author, Audrey Alleyne, cites research studies that provide evidence of the benefits of early language learning. These benefits include: developing high levels of language proficiency, a boost in cognitive and creative abilities, achieving native-like pronunciation and intonation, and the transfer of literacy skills from the first language to the second. The article also discusses the critical period for learning languages and the effectiveness of using a thematic curriculum. It concludes by suggesting that legislatures in the U.S. are ignoring current brain research that has proved the cognitive benefits of learning foreign languages.



Study on the Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity

A recent report by the European Commission reveals that multilingualism contributes to creativity. Data were collected from a forum of 30 country-specific experts in Europe across a wide range of European languages. Analysis of these data resulted in six primary findings:

Patricia Kuhl: The Linguistic Genius of Babies

In this ten-minute video, Patricia Kuhl reports on brain research that reveals new information about how humans learn. Kuhl speaks about her recent research in Seattle that provides evidence of a critical period for learning languages, occurring before a child’s first birthday. She claims that babies and children are “little geniuses” at learning languages until they turn seven years old.

Kuhl’s research findings show that during the first year of life, babies are able to discriminate all the sounds of any language they hear, no matter what language it is. Kuhl describes this as “taking statistics” and she claims her research has found that it takes a human being (versus a television or audio-recording) in order for babies to take their statistics. One implication of her research is that we have the capability to preserve languages simply by speaking to babies.



What We Can Learn From Foreign Language Teaching in Other Countries

Ingrid Pufahl, Nancy Rhodes, and Donna Christian from the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) summarize a research study they conducted on, “What we can learn from foreign language teaching in other countries.” Readers will learn what foreign language teachers from 19 different countries perceive to be the most important factors in designing and sustaining a successful foreign language program.

The findings elicited from this survey identify eight exemplary characteristics for successful foreign language education, one of which is an early start! These eight characteristics are:

Bilingual Babies Cue in to Language

Researchers have discovered that babies from bilingual homes develop the ability to distinguish between multiple languages based on visual clues such as lip movement and facial cues. This increased visual perception may indicate a developing ability to focus attention and engage in complex thinking later in life.



Why it’s Smart to be Bilingual

Casey Schwartz summarizes research-based studies on the benefits of bilingual learning on the brain. Rather than focus only on the advantages of gaining cultural knowledge, Schwartz highlights studies that show how young bilingual brains develop better “executive function,” or the ability to maintain focus and disregard irrelevant information. As these brain skills are often compromised in young learners with ADHD or other attention disorders, researchers are now examining whether bilingual learning might have an impact on these conditions.



Being Bilingual: Beneficial Workout for the Brain

The Chronicle of Higher Education published findings from current research presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science focused on benefits of bilingualism for the brain. The research shows that bilingual adults have an ability to consciously switch between languages, are skilled at blocking out unimportant information, are better able to focus on what is relevant, have the ability to quickly and efficiently switch between tasks and have an improved spatial memory. The research also shows a delay of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in bilingual adults. Research targeting bilingual children found that babies used facial expressions to determine whether the language being used was familiar to them or not.

Implications for learning languages in the classroom are that cognitive abilities can be increased by improving short-term memory through memorization of long sequences of letters and learning how to use the less common meanings of words. Conclusions highlight the mental advantages gained from learning languages.



A Second Language Gives Toddlers an Edge

A report from Montreal, Canada, claims that infants who learn a second language have an edge over their monolingual peers. The claim is from a research study conducted by Concordia University and York University in Canada and the Université de Provence in France. Data were collected from 63 infants who were 24 months of age; half were monolingual and half were bilingual. The infants were assessed using five language and cognitive tests. Data were also collected from parents through a language exposure survey.

The senior researcher reported that the bilingual children had acquired a vocabulary in both languages and were able to switch between English and French. The researcher encourages parents and educators to expose infants to a second language early on because of the benefits that this study revealed.


Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language

This New York Times article summarizes several research studies that illustrate how bilingual infants distinguish between more than one language. By examining how infants process language in the brain—before they even start speaking—researchers are learning that children from both monolingual and bilingual homes have the ability to discriminate between multiple languages at six months old. However, by the age of 12 months, only bilingual babies retained this “cognitive flexibility.” By studying infants and language, researchers hope to learn how brain growth is affected by language acquisition at a young age.



Students Speaking Native Language Do Well

This brief article out of Columbia, Missouri, reports on the results from a survey given to 408 Mexican-American students. The study found that the Latino students who maintained their native languages and embraced their cultural heritages received higher grade point averages than those Latinos who only spoke English at home and in school. Since research also shows that Latino students have high dropout rates, the researcher recommends that schools welcome and support English learners’ home cultures and native languages to promote their academic success.



Bilinguals Score Higher on Intelligence

This brief cites a study conducted by researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel of sixth graders who spoke Russian and Hebrew and who were learning English. It found that bilinguals learn a third language easier than monolinguals and bilinguals also score higher on tests of intelligence. The researchers recommend that language learning begin early.



Language and Culture Summit: A Strategic Imperative
Outcomes from the Language and Culture Summit: A Strategic Imperative sponsored by the Department of Defense endorse the enhancement of language and cultural capabilities within the United States. Leaders from the Department of Defense, industry, and universities established initiatives that prioritize the learning of languages and cross-cultural competence by making them core competencies. Initiatives include:



How Children Learn Languages

This report cites Dr. Charles Yang’s The Infinite Gift. Yang is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Organized in six concise parts, the report provides, in easy accessible language, the phenomenon that is language acquisition and the known factors which influence it. It debunks the myth that if a child is exposed to too many languages at once, s/he can become confused.

This report appears on the website Early Advantage. Early Advantage is an independent publishing company known for the marketing of Muzzy, the early language learning program produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The mission at Early Advantage is to develop effective language learning programs for young children.


Learning Languages When Young Increases Fluency

The Jerusalem Post reports that researchers from Haifa University found that those who speak two languages learn a third language more easily, and also increase their IQs while doing so. The study included two groups of sixth grade students who were all learning English. One group consisted of native Russian speakers, immigrants who had previously learned Hebrew. The second group consisted of native Hebrew speakers. Both groups were given tests to measure their mastery of reading strategies and knowledge of the rules of writing systems in both Hebrew and English. The native Russian group was also given identical tests in Russian.

Results indicated that the native Russian group scored better than the native Hebrew group. The native Russian group scored higher on writing exercises and on exercises involving knowledge of word formation.

Researchers tested the students' IQs before and after their English language training. They discovered that among students from both groups with the same average starting IQ, the native Russian students increased their IQ by about 7% following their English language learning experience.



An Early Start: Young Learners and Modern Languages in Europe and Beyond

This site links readers to a compilation of articles from around the world that address the topic of an early start to foreign language learning. The compilation provides insight into the way in which early language learning is addressed internationally. Although different models are shared from various countries, Curtain and Nikolov conclude that simply an early start is not only what we should advocate, we should also consider the variables that can influence a successful early start to learning a foreign language. These variables include continuity and articulation, methodologies that may or may not be developmentally appropriate, and the need for research on outcomes reflecting expectations that are developmentally appropriate and in alignment with the way in which language is taught at an early age.



Bilingualism appears to boost young children’s mental abilities, study reports

A recent study at Cornell found that children who begin learning a second language early in life, strengthen their executive attention, or ability to attend to important input, dismiss unimportant input, and decide what actions to take as a result of the important input. The study was conducted on 56 four-year-olds,
children from middle-class neighborhoods whose parents were college-educated. The study compared U.S. native English-only speaking children, U.S. bilingual children (Korean-English), U.S. Korean-only speaking children and Korean-only speaking children in Korea. The Korean and Korean-English speaking children from the United States had first generation native Korean parents; the bilingual children had about 11 months of formal exposure to English through a bilingual daycare program. The study used a computer game to assess components of executive attention.

The U.S. bilingual children were the most successful out of the four groups. The study also was able to separate out the effects of bilingualism from the effects of culture. According to the article, in Korea children are raised with more behavioral control and taught to be more reserved than children in the U.S. The study showed that the children raised in Korea were more accurate with the game than the U.S. raised monolingual children. The researchers now want to discover how bilingualism improves executive function so that this may be capitalized on in the classroom.