Foreign language lessons just another advantage of preschool

Becoming bilingual now will help your preschooler later

Preschools in the Hudson Valley are starting to incorportate foreign language lessons into their curriculum. Foreign language lessons are one of the many advantages to sending your child to preschool. Your preschooler will be required to take a foreign language once they reach junior high, but Barbara Weiss, Principal of Meadow Hill Global Explorations Magnet School in Newburgh, said it’s never to early to start teaching.
“The brain creates more pathways earlier in life and the earlier that you can create those brain patterns then the better a preschooler will do in acquiring a language,” said Weiss. “This is not true with just language acquisition but all types of learning.”   

Preschoolers still possess the capacity to develop near native-like pronunciation and intonation in a new language, making it easier and less frustrating. Starting early sets the stage for students to develop advanced levels of proficiency in one or more languages, she said. 

At Meadow Hill, the theme is ‘Global Explorations’ and instruction starts from kindergarten through eighth grade. The school offers Spanish, Italian and French with the language taught determined by the calendar year of entry. Weiss states that between 80 to 90 percent of sixth graders at Meadow Hill pass the seventh grade exam foreign language exam after starting their instruction in the earlier grades.

“Language acquisition doesn’t necessarily stop at the second language. Many of Meadow Hill’s students become tri-lingual,” said Weiss. “Many times you will see a child who is truly proficient in a second language hop right into a third language as several languages have a lot in common.” 

For example, a student who learns French can learn Spanish or other romance languages easily because of their similarities.


How to teach your child a new language

There are many resources available for you to teach your child. There are computer programs, television shows and DVDs on learning a new language. There is also no substitute for interactive learning between student and teacher.

Pistu Downey-McGuire, a Spanish teacher at the Poughkeepsie Day School, introduces Spanish in pre-k. She is hands-on with a goal of making the new language a part of the student’s daily life, using storybooks and board games. For instance, she will read a book to students in English and then read it in Spanish. This helps the children overcome anxiety about not understanding the language. Her aim is to develop a student’s love for the language and to help them develop an ear for the sound, so that it doesn’t sound uncomfortable or scary.

She encourages families to use everyday board games like Candyland and Snails Pace Race to teach colors and suggests that you visit your local libraries and select books in the language that you teaching your child. “Use dinnertime as a learning experience,” she said. “‘Please pass the leche’ or ‘Would you like some agua?’ are easy ways to introduce new words in a daily routine.”  


Looking toward the future

Not all schools offer foreign language classes in the younger years, but many are pushing for change. In Red Hook, the School District Superintendent Paul Finch stated that he “would love to begin thinking about how to transition foreign language to the lower grades. All the research points to the early years as the best time to acquire a second language.” 

Learning a new language will provide your child with the tools they need to succeed in daily life. Armed with a library card or a train ticket you can begin your child’s adventures into languages and cultures far beyond your own. Diviértanse! Amusez-Vous! Buon divertimento! Have fun!

Learn at the Library!
The Mid-Hudson Library System now has the free Mango Languages online language-learning system for all websites of all local libraries in Columbia, Dutchess, Greene,
Putnam and Ulster counties. There are 12 languages to choose from.

Read more about helping your child become bilingual.


Meridith Ferber lives in Rhinebeck with her husband and three kids.