If you’re a student struggling to complete your foreign language requirement, you’ve undoubtedly heard this bit of advice: You should’ve learned a language when you were younger. Though they may be too late to help you, the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University have taken that lesson to heart. The two are teaming up to teach elementary school kids Spanish, while they are still at the ideal age to learn. This collaboration is a sorely needed recognition that knowing other languages is a necessary skill in today’s world and that one axiom of learning is tried and true: start young.
Beginning next fall, the program will take fluent Spanish-speaking students in the University’s School of Education and pair them with third grade classes in one of Ann Arbor’s 21 elementary schools. For 30 minutes twice a week, students will learn basic Spanish phrases and expressions, and as these students progress through elementary and middle school, the program is expected to follow along. The program will cost Ann Arbor’s school district an estimated $100,000 a year once it is in full swing because the University will be footing most of the bill — an estimated $800,000 to $1 million.
The partnership is a win-win situation for both parties. Ann Arbor’s schools get the low-cost language program that they have been hoping to develop for the past two years. Though it will bear a lot of the cots, the University gets a perfect training ground for its students. It will now be able to offer education students a program that gives them a K-12 foreign language teaching certification.
But the bigger winner in all of this is the elementary school students. Numerous studies have shown that a language is more easily and effectively learned when it’s taught in elementary school. Although the benefits have been proven, little has changed in the way public schools approach teaching language. This new program will profoundly change that. And it will give students a strong base to study language in high school and college, even if the language they eventually study isn’t Spanish.
Spanish is a logical place to start. According to the a report from the Pew Research Center released in February, the Hispanic population in the United States will triple by 2050 if current trends continue. That would mean that roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population would be Hispanic. Though it would be great to teach students other languages like French or Mandarin, Spanish makes sense for now. It is the language students will most likely be in contact with — which will help them retain it — and it’s a language that may prove useful in the future.
Unfortunately, this type of early language curriculum hasn’t become commonplace in our country’s education system. Until that happens, the best anyone could hope for is what is happening with the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Public Schools.