Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Spanish Class that Saves Money

By Sean Scarpiello

Lately in the state of New Jersey, there have been major budget cuts in the field of education. In order to continue instruction, New Jersey schools were forced to find ways to save money and be more efficient. In Randolph, New Jersey, the Ironia Elementary School has found a way to save a little under $100,000 each year. They have decided to replace language teachers with the software Rosetta Stone. Many students have found their new language classes more interesting, but will the program be successful in the long run?

Rosetta Stone is a great way to teach someone a new language quickly and efficiently. The software isn’t expensive for use on large amounts of students and it is formulated to work with the capabilities of the human brain so students can learn quickly and efficiently. When you ask an American person, who’s first language is English, to think of a dog, the first thing that pops into their head is an image of a dog. When you ask the same person who has a typical knowledge of Spanish as a second language to think of a “perro,” they think of the word “perro” and translate it quickly to “dog”, then the image of a dog pops up into their head. Rosetta stone is aiming to completely eliminate the behavior of quick translation that occurs in just about every person with a mediocre education of a second language. By associating new words with pictures, Rosetta Stone helps students learn faster with better understanding of the new language. The software also allows students to hear and speak the language into a microphone, allowing the software to cover a full understanding of the language through writing, listening, and speaking.

Ironia Elementary School made a good choice picking Rosetta Stone as a replacement for a teacher, but my question - why are they teaching elementary school students a second language? In reality, it is important to teach students new languages, especially in this constantly changing world, but elementary school is not the time to start. Physiologically, elementary school students have a high aptitude for learning languages, but it is tough to teach children a new language when they don’t yet completely understand the English language. Elementary school is teaching the elements of English, and it’s tough to teach a third grader the preterite or imperfect tense in Spanish when they don’t yet fully understand the past tense in English. It is similar to teaching a medical school student to take out a kidney, but without teaching him where to find it and what it does. When I was in elementary school, I had five years of instruction in Spanish and I escaped it with nothing more than a knowledge of colors, the ability to count to 30, and a perplexing attitude towards second languages.

The best idea would be to begin second language education in middle school, when students have a decent knowledge of their first language and use Rosetta Stone up until eighth grade. Upon entering high school, placement tests should be given to see how students progressed, and place them in high school language classes where it is easier and more efficient to teach large amounts of students languages efficiently and with the use of a teacher.

Regardless of the fact that teaching elementary school students languages is just plain inefficient, I think it is fantastic that the education field is finding new ways to stretch their dollars when the government funds them less money for instruction. Schools in New Jersey should be applauded for their resourcefulness in such a difficult time during the state’s transformation.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with your logic as well the solution of starting to learn a second language only in middle school when students have a decent knowledge of their first language. In the contrary, any language and/or multitudes of languages are best learned starting at the cradle, or as soon as possible thereafter. All languages are fastest and best absorbed as well as remembered at the earliest possible age of a person. The understanding of grammar is an option to be added only much later, essentially after one knows and speaks the language. Grammar will be useful in satisfying the human need to appear logical and consistent in what one is doing, or in this case saying or writing. Grammar is the protocol which is good to use in order to be language-correct, i.e. as to what is currently accepted practice. However, there are hundreds of millions of people in this world, maybe more, who converse in more than one language (in some cases in three or four, such as in Switzerland and Singapore, for example) who have zero knowledge about any grammatical rules, and they are getting along just fine.

The way a baby learns language via "total immersion" is the easiest and fastest method of learning another language. "Total immersion" doesn't rely on whether the student knows his/her own native language well or at all, and keeps him/her FAR away from grammatical rules until, again, he/she has acquired sufficient knowledge in the new language.

The essential teaching difference is whether the approach is for learning via the left or the right side of our brain. "Total Immersion" uses the right brain for learning, while starting with logic, rules and grammar means using the left brain. Nature and experience show that using the left brain is the "normal" way and works FAR better. Which doesn't mean, however, that "logical" humans haven't developed methods to teach languages "logically." It is certainly possible to learn a language that way, too, except FAR harder, and in most cases not with the same results.