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The Power Of The Second Language

Recorded on: January 8, 2016

Air Date: January 11, 2016

The Power of the Second Language

Guest Speakers:

Darby Gionnone, Founder of School District 4J's Yujin Gakuen
Robin Chappell, Charlemagne French Immersion School
Joel Lavin, Eugene's Camino del Río/River Road Elementary School
Eric Pakulak, Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon

Coordinator: Randy Prince

Non-English language programs are often the first items to be scrutinized and cut when elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S. face budget crunches. However, many studies have demonstrated the benefits of second language learning, not only on students’ linguistic abilities, but on their cognitive and creative abilities as well.  Students who study a second language seem to perform better on the tests that are used to evaluate schools and individual progress, including tests of mathematical ability.

Just how much does second language study build brain power? Does spending time learning a second language and taking time away from studying other subjects inevitably mean lower performance in those subjects?  Or might learning another language be a time-effective way to improve one’s general cognition, adding capacity that can be used to solve math and science problems and communicate in one’s native tongue as well?

Many developed countries mandate second language instruction.  In Canada, which is officially bilingual,  20% of the population has French as its home language and another 15% primarily speak home languages besides English and French.  Schools there use a variety of approaches to add essential language knowledge, including immersion schools and stand-alone classes, depending on the grade level and demographics of the community.

How would school districts in the United States make second language instruction available to all students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? Local educators describe the research and practice that could inform our thinking on this critical area of curriculum.

Darby Gionnone was a founder of School District 4J's Yujin Gakuen, the first Japanese Language Immersion program in the United States.  She has 31 years experience as a teacher, administrator and elementary school principal, and a PhD in Education (Organizational Development) from the University of Oregon.

Robin Chappell teaches second grade at Eugene's Charlemagne French Immersion School.  He holds a degree in Language Studies and Linguistics, and in Education from the University of Oregon.  He also works professionally in the field of photography and graphic arts.

Joel Lavin is principal of Eugene's Camino del Río/River Road Elementary  school, which features a dual immersion program.  The school  offers the opportunity for native English and Spanish speakers to work together to become bilingual and bi-literate.

Eric Pakulak is a Research Associate in the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon, where he does research on language development including differences between monolingual and bilingual speakers.