Subject: Language

#1264. Foreign Language

Language, level: Elementary
Posted Sun Aug 22 11:16:09 PDT 1999 by Karen Athey-Bradley (
San Leandro, CA, USA
Materials Required: cassette tape, portable tape recorder
Activity Time: 15 min./day
Concepts Taught: Geography, Respecting & Embracing Cultural Differences

I used this lesson with Kindergarten children all last year, and the success was even greater than I had imagined in terms of opening their eyes to the languages and cultures around them. Read on!
At the beginning of the year I took a survey of parents to determine which children either spoke a second language at home or had parents/grandparents that spoke other languages. I then assigned one language per month as the "Spotlight Language." I sent home a cassette tape and walkman-size tape recorder, along with a list of some suggested words, i.e. days of the week, colors, body parts, common greetings, numbers for the parent to record onto the tape (the parents were free to record anything they wanted, but I quickly discovered that without a list of suggestions, they often felt unsure of what types of things I was expecting). I gave them at least a week to work on this. They were also encouraged to bring in items that they felt were representative of their language/culture/heritage.
Each morning we spent between 10 and 15 minutes learning or reviewing words in the Spotlight Language. This was especially successful when the words could be set to a familiar tune or involved commands which allowed them to get out of their seats or were accompanied by actions of some sort. The song "Head, and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" (with actions)and a "Days of the Week" song were particularly fun. The key, I found was to never introduce more than four of five words/one or two phrases per day. For languages such as Japanese and Thai that used very different writing systems, I had the parents write out some of the words which I displayed in the room, and I often saw children practicing writing those words. As the year progressed it was amazing to hear the children at free time having serious discussions about how to say things in their languages. All of the parents were very supportive of this approach to cultural and language education. However, the parents who were the most grateful were those whose child had never taken any interest in the parents' first language, yet suddenly came home excited and eager to learn new words, so that they could come to school the next day and share more words with their friends. Also, each child was very proud to hear his/her parent's voice on the cassette tape. Whenever possible I also got books from the library in the target language for the children to enjoy.
I found that the children were ecstatic to be learning things their parents and older brothers and sisters didn't even know. At the same time, they were learning to listen with a new interest to the otherwise strange-sounding words spoken around them.
I realize foreign language education is usually avoided in the elementary grades, but perhaps this is to our detriment as a society. I strongly encourage you to try this for a couple of months. I trust your results will be as heartening as mine.