Third-graders giggled while moving their hips and clapping along to the beat of a Spanish song about weather.
Putting the vocabulary words to music and including motions helps students retain the information, said Kokomo School Corp. Spanish teacher Nicole Geary.
“We really focus on learning through song, dance and kinesthetic motion,” Geary said. “I feel like that in itself has helped them really connect with it.”
Learning a foreign language at a young age enables students to become more proficient at the language over the course of their academic careers, gives them a better understanding of other cultures and can improve children’s cognitive problem-solving abilities, according to a 2007 newsletter from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Indiana requires high school students to earn world language credits in order to graduate with a Core 40 or honors diploma, and many school corporations are seeing the benefits of starting foreign language lessons early.
“The youthful brain has a characteristic of plasticity, which allows younger children to learn language, even a foreign language, easier than older children,” said Sharon Hahn, principal at Lafeyette Park Elementary School. “Young children are a perfect model for the critical period of language acquisition. The power to learn language is great during this time period.”
Geary said preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students pick up on Spanish most quickly, and they really start to embrace the language in first and second grade. Students who started learning a foreign language in first grade or later will not pick up on the concepts as easily as their younger peers who have had more exposure to it, she added.
“When I see them in first grade, they are on it. It’s clicked,” Geary said. “The earlier you start, the better.”
Kokomo Schools started its elementary Spanish curriculum three years ago as part of its International Baccalaureate and Integrated Arts programs. Geary splits her time among classes at Sycamore Elementary School, Lafayette Park Elementary School and Wallace School of Integrated Arts. Sycamore also offers a separate English Second Language program.