Last week, New York City School Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the city will expand its dual language offerings, making no less than 40 such programs available to K-12 students. According to the New York Times, the programs will primarily aim to get students reading, writing, and talking proficiently in both English and Spanish, with additional offerings available in Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, French, and Haitian-Creole.
These additions, set for the 2015-16 school year, are in line with the shifting attitudes toward bilingual education. For example, in California, voters may get the option in 2016 to annul Proposition 227, a 1998 bill which required schools to only teach in English, effectively banning bilingual education.
Bans on bilingual education grew in part out of fear that immigrant students would not learn English if given the option to continue speaking in their native language — an argument shot down by Yale University linguistic professor Claire Bowern, who recently penned an essay where she set out to dispel that notion with evidence that children of immigrants become fluent in a country's major language within a generation. Bowern additionally argued that bilingual education is beneficial for all students, not just the affluent.
Growing evidence also shows that learning more than one language can be an asset to developmental growth and attention spans. Researchers at York University in Toronto recently published a study finding that learning to juggle two languages in your mind actually strengthens the brain's functions and improves attention.
With states becoming more open to bilingual education, how can schools easily adapt? Luckily, a number of online resources exist to help boost language learning in the classroom.
Early Lingo Total Immersion Bundle
This bundle of four apps teaching four languages (French, English, Italian, and Spanish) costs $2.99 in the iTunes App Store. Early Lingo introduces students to two characters, Jojo and Lulu, as they go on adventures in the park and on the farm. In these various locations, students are pushed to learn language through interactive games.
According to iTunes, the main topics of the games are colors, shapes, numbers, animals, park, and farm. While this may seem a bit rudimentary, it's a good starting point for getting students' feet wet and starting to familiarize them with a new language. The program also utilizes the total immersion method, so there's no translation — students are immediately pushed into the world of a new language and asked to use context clues to understand what is happening while deciphering new, unfamiliar vocabulary.
Rosetta Stone Arcade Academy
Popular among older language learners, Rosetta Stone has branched out to create a tool that is both informative and fun for the K-12 demographic. Arcade Academy specifically focuses on teaching students Spanish. Minigames with a retro, 8-bit look set the stage as students learn a new language and work to defeat an evil villain. The app, which is free, comes with 12 games that have 120 variations.
Another gamified option, Duolingo helps teach Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, and Swedish. The key to this program is it utilizes effective mini-lesson strategies that build on our natural desire to learn. You earn points for correct answers and you race against the clock — all techniques that children enjoy. The program is available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The best part? It's 100% free for schools.
So how can teachers use Duolingo? The company's website recommends that teachers utilize the its ready-made lesson plans, assign a Duolingo skill each week for homework, or give students extra credit if they move along at their own pace and earn special Duolingo "XP" points.
This language learning platform offers instruction in over 60 languages — including Swahili! In this data-driven era, teachers and administrators will appreciate the tool's tracking system, which allows educators to check in and see which languages students are using the most. Mango Languages focuses on four components of language learning: vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and culture. The last one is particularly important one, as students shouldn't just memorize a new language but also understand where it's coming from.
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