Canterbury School has the unique position of being the only school in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area to offer foreign language instruction in French to Early Childhood students. All students are instructed in French from age 3 (Cavaliers) to Kindergarten Prep, and continue the language in Lower School. A student many continue on with French through High School or transition to Spanish in third grade. Additional languages of Latin and Mandarin Chinese are offered beginning in Middle School. All languages continue through High School with the addition of Japanese.
Research shows speaking a second language can improve children’s overall school performance and problem-solving skills, positively affect their performance on standardized tests, and increase their awareness of the vocabulary and structure of their first language. Exposure to a second or third language is best at the earliest age possible.
Research of the brain in language development indicates there is a “window of opportunity” or an optimal time for language acquisition in the early childhood period, especially if the goal is accent-free speech. Although older children and adults can learn a second language, they must put more work into it and will almost always retain an accent. Early childhood is the best time because the neural connections being established to produce and recognize the first language will also do so with the second language.
In early childhood, these connections are very flexible. Children are capable of learning the sounds and structures of a second language without the obstruction, or the filtering action, of their first language. This flexibility also stays longer with them, enabling them to adopt additional languages with greater ease in life. Without early exposure, this window of opportunity closes around the time of puberty, when the brain firms its neural connections.
At Canterbury, the French teacher employs a number of teaching methods with students. Students sing songs and act out humorous poems; play games, role play, move to commands, listen to stories and identify familiar vocabulary. French vocabulary also is woven into the music material the students are learning – whether it be for a parent night or simply for a rhythmic exercise.