Friday, February 5, 2010

Hot topic: Language classes

This from an SF K Files reader:
My children have asked to attend a Spanish language class on the weekends because they have been watching Dora and Diego since they were 3. They now want to expand upon their knowledge. Do any parents know of any great after school and weekend language classes? What are the hours and costs? I would love to hear about great programs for different languages (i.e. Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Russian) as well.


  1. you might check out www.langokids. com. They have some after school programs in san francisco.

    That makes me wonder - I understand that a kid needs 30 hours per week of the target language to become fluent. I'm wondering if it's possible to help mono-lingual kids become fluent in a second language through after school programs and weekend classes.

    Math-wise, it would be pretty tough since after school time could only be about 15 hrs (ie. 5 days per week, 3 hours per day). Maybe some hours on the weekend, but probably wouldn't approach 20.

    That said, the after school program would be more than enough for language enrichment.

  2. oops, I meant, "... approach 30 hours..."

  3. I would love my child to have language enrichment after school.

    I wonder about that 30 hour thing. I suspect it's too high. As we know, in other countries children learn multiple languages and have a natural affinity and could not apply 30 hour a week to do that.

  4. As long as you know what you're getting--familiarity versus fluency--I think it's great for kids to take language enrichment classes. If you want fluency and don't speak the language all the time at home, an immersion school is the way to go for most kids. I've known a few people whose brains seem to be wired to pick up languages very easily, but it's not common. The downside of an immersion school for parents who don't speak the target language is that it can be uncomfortable to not understand most of your kids' schoolwork.

  5. Everyone I know for whom English is not their first language did not learn in an immersion enviornment and who and they all have very good command of the language. Immersion in elementary school is not the only way to fluency in another language.

  6. 5:12 - could you expand? Outside of an immersion program, how can mono-lingual, english-speaking kids become fluent in another language?

    I'm really thinking about kids living in an english-speaking society, whose parents are themselves english-mono-speakers.

    For those kids in particular, what are some ways they could become fluent besides language immersion?

    I think kids who didn't grow up speaking english who move into an english-speaking society would definitely become fluent in english, since they'd get the 30 hours per week speaking english.

  7. I'm 5:12 and I was referring specifically to non-English speaking Eastern Europeans whose parents still do not even speak English. how to learn but through immersion? studying , I suppose. finding a mentor. From there folks, seeking out people anywhere but school was helpful. granted, this isn't a scientific study, only heresay.

  8. --Everyone I know for whom English is not their first language did not learn in an immersion enviornment and who and they all have very good command of the language--

    But, um, if you know them, then I assume they live here? In an English speaking environment? They may not have learned initially in an immersion environment, but if they live here now, then they ARE immersed, and it's probably how their English skills really took off.

  9. Everyone I know for whom English is not their first language did not learn in an immersion environment and they all have very good command of the language.

    If the people you know are European, you should know that the European school systems (northern European, at least) support learning English from an early age even if it's not true immersion.

    If they did learn it independently, it was a lot of hard work, not just a few hours a week after school.

    Also, the rest of the world has the advantage of so much entertainment (television, movies, music, internet) coming from the U.S., so if you really want to learn English it's not difficult to be exposed to it for several hours a day.

  10. Most European kids (such as I once was)grow up learning English a few hours a week in school, starting fairly early on, and then often adding at least one other language later (in public school). It is considered a basis of a good education, and of modern world citizenship, and they are rightly horrified at the lack of languages in Gen Ed US schools. Being exposed to other languages from a young age does influence ones world view. Most Europeans are highly functioning (as in: can carry on a conversation with people in another language, get around and function in that country, read papers, and possibly books) in at least one other European language, though they might not be as fully fluent as a native speaker. And they don't generally need to be. I had no more than 4-6 hours of English education a week throughout my school years, and I was prepared to do a BA in England. The first 3 months were a little tough, but I could do it. It certainly helps that many European countries show foreign programming on television, and don't dub them. Through TV, music and films children do hear foreign languages, and especially English, on a daily basis, and that helps mastering the language. The overwhelming mono-culture one sees here in the media is not helpful for language development, or cultural understanding. The wider political implications of that should be obvious to anyone following international politics today. My kids are already bilingual, but I still would like them to get a good base in more languages, as any civilized education should provide. In this state especially, there is really no excuse for not having everyone learn Spanish.

  11. "Benefit of US enterntainment"?

    Or the benefit of a national culture that is open to entertainment from other countries! There is plenty of great entertainment being produced all over the world, but somehow the media in this country chooses not to broadcast it. Even programming from England, in ENGLISH, is sent on a few special interest channels (yes, including PBS). Now, how do you think that influences the average American's view of the world, never mind knowledge of the world?

    When I grew up, in a non-English speaking European country, I remember television series films and music from countries such as Germany, Italy, France, Finland, and probably many more, airing with regularity, in addition to plenty from the US and England. None of them dubbed, unless they were for CHILDREN. The insularity here, as well as the lack of knowledge of just how insular it is, grows really old.

  12. 8:44 - "in my day..."

    really - I wish the worst thing we had to worry about was lack of foreign programming. However, turn on the TV today and there are scream-matches by "experts" on political programs, kids making fun of their parents and half-naked teens on most channels. It's hard to parent a respectful child in today's American AND I will say "Western" culture.

    Exposure to language through media is not the issue - The issue is finding appropriate media - in any language- to consume.

  13. 8:44 - In case I didn't make myself clear - They are producing the same garbage in Europe now as they are in the US. Good luck to us all...

  14. I'm 5:12 again, and no, they do not live in the US, they still live in Eurasia. Yes, they had a couple hours per week of English in school. More like the enrichment programs here than the immersion programs. Which really was my point. That exposure to language is important but immersion is not the only way.

  15. "There is plenty of great entertainment being produced all over the world, but somehow the media in this country chooses not to broadcast it."

    Because there's bucketloads of US-generated content. Even in the UK, which has the excellent BBC and Channel 4 generating their own content, there's.

    For non-English speakers, a huge amount of pop culture and even serious art is generated in English. If you're a scientist, most of the scientific journals are in English. English is also the Lingua Franca of business between most non-English speakers: if a Turk and a Thai need to talk to each other, they'll use English.

    Even Spanish or Mandarin or Japanese (despite Japan having a strong pop culture) don't have that kind of utility. If you're, say, Danish, the opportunities and horizons open to you if you can speak English are much larger than if you stay monoglot Danish-speaking.

    [But what I don't understand is how Scandanavians & Dutch speak English *better than native speakers.]

  16. "They are producing the same garbage in Europe now as they are in the US."

    Yup. "Survivor" was a Dutch invention. We don't have the market in vulgarity cornered anymore.

  17. Ok, enough snarking, guys -- back to the subject. I'm looking for a Russian language tutor for (potentially) up to three kids. I haven't been able to find any Russian language afterschool or weekend classes. Ideally it would be a class once a weekend. If anyone knows someone interested in teaching such a group or an existing class that I just don't know about, please have them post a email address or website for us to make contact with them via. Thanks!

  18. There seems to be this idea that only immersion gives fluency, and everything else is "enrichment." Sure, immersion will make you fluent. But how about knowing enough of a language to converse, to understand directions and get around in a country, to read literature, and to become fluent very quickly once immersed in the other country? If that's enrichment, I think enrichment is something very desirable. That can be achieved after school and on weekends (or in school a few hours a week).