Local schools make learning a second language a priority

Today’s problematic economy and job market is a reminder that your child’s education is key – especially when they apply to college or begin a job search. Since colleges and businesses expect a candidate to be educated, well-rounded and culturally aware, knowing a second language can put them ahead of the pack. 

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“Knowing other languages and understanding other cultures is a 21st Century skill set for American students as they prepare to live and work in a global society,” said Martha G. Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in Virginia.

“No matter what career students enter, they will be interacting with others around the world on a routine basis and doing business locally with those whose native language is not English.”

Some evidence suggests that children who receive instruction in a second language are more creative and better at solving complex problems. “Children who learn a foreign language, beginning in early childhood, demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not,” said Therese Sullivan Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) in North Carolina. “Foreign language learning is much more a cognitive problem-solving activity than a linguistic activity, overall. Foreign language learning increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children.”  

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“The benefits of learning a second language are endless,” said Pistu Downey-McGuire, a Spanish teacher at the Poughkeepsie Day School. “Children know they will be able to communicate when they go abroad and they will be more interested in other cultures. For example, they will think ‘I know Spanish, I want to talk to these people and learn about them!’”

What language should your child learn? Spanish? French? Italian? Barbara Weiss, principal of Meadow Hill Global Explorations Magnet School in Newburgh states, “If you’re looking at a global economy, two tremendous opportunities are the languages of China and India. There are also advantages for children who know Middle Eastern languages.”Woodstock Day School, a private school in Ulster County, expanded their foreign language program to include these very areas.

The state-chartered, independent school will begin teaching Mandarin Chinese to students in grades preschool through 12. Spoken by approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide, Mandarin is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and one of four spoken languages in Singapore. All students at the day school are enrolled in the program. The course will utilize an academic buddy system, in which younger students pair up with older students.

Weiss also said it’s important to have your child find a language they are interested in learning. Maybe your family speaks Spanish or maybe you frequently travel to Italy and learning Italian would be a benefit to the child later. You could also expose them to a few different languages and have them pick which one sounds fun.


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