Research shows learning to speak 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 grammatical structure of their first language. Exposure to a second language is best at the earliest age possible.
Capitalizing on these findings, Canterbury School is unique in being the only school in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area to offer French instruction to Early Childhood students. 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 to learn 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.
French begins at age 3 (Cavaliers) and continues into Lower School. A student many continue on with French through High School or decide transition to Spanish in third grade. Latin is also offered, beginning in Middle School. All languages continue through High School, where Japanese is an additional option.