The purpose of the Mercer Island Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program is to provide students with a comprehensive second -or third- language experience in each of the four elementary schools. The experience will prepare them for a global, multilingual and polycultural environment through tolerance, understanding and the ability to communicate across language barriers. Exposing students to a language in elementary school provides a stronger foundation for them when they enter middle and high school to complete the graduation requirements.
By the end of fifth grade, our students will reach basic (novice) proficiency in Spanish verbal communication. The program is designed to do this by providing our students with real-life experiences and authentic instruction in the Spanish language. The program’s goal is to develop confidence in speaking, which will translate to developing a higher level of proficiency in a language when moving through middle school, high school, and college.
Using Research and Professional Affiliations to Drive Our Practice
Research demonstrates that language learning supports academic achievement, provides cognitive benefits to students, and positively affects attitudes and beliefs about other cultures. Using these findings by other professionals in the field, the Spanish team continues to use data points and a close affiliation to the most influential organization in the world language field today, ACTFL.
- Second to English, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in the United States. Approx. 42 million native Spanish Speakers and an additional 16 million non-native speakers (58 million) live in the USA.
- Interestingly, the US Census Office estimates that by 2050, the USA will have 138 million Spanish speakers and could then overtake Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world.
- All parts of your brain communicate via signals sent between neurons, along neural pathways. When one first learns a new skill, it is hard work because forming new neural pathways is difficult. When the brain learns a new language, the brain creates entirely NEW neural pathways between neurons (different than your first language)--the brain strengthens. However, the process is challenging and demanding, which is why when first learning a new skill ( a new sport, a new language, a musical instrument, etc.) it can be frustrating. Fortunately, with practice, the neural pathways become stronger and faster (like working a muscle). The activity then becomes easier, less cognitively demanding, and more enjoyable. The more you use the neural pathways, the faster signals can fire on them, and the quicker processing becomes. More neural pathways and communicating neurons, lead to more brain activity overall. (Erica Peplinski)
- The elementary team has come to rely upon the standards developed by ACTFL, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. This council is seen as the preeminent leader in defining foreign language standards and proficiency guidelines for foreign language instruction in the US. “ACTFL is dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction. Since its founding in 1967, ACTFL has become synonymous with innovation, quality, and reliability in meeting the changing needs of language educators and their students. From the development of Proficiency Guidelines, to its leadership role in the creation of national standards, ACTFL focuses on issues that are critical to the growth of both the profession and the individual teacher.”
- ACTFL identifies several key researched-based conclusions that support introducing students to new languages:
- Language learning correlates with haigher academic achievement on standardized test measures
- Language learning is benefitical in the development of students' reading abilities
- Language learners transfer skills from one language to another
- Correlation between second language learning and increased linguistic awareness
- Language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language and/or the speakers of that language
- Early language learning improves cognitive abilities