The Need for Second Language Learning

By VanTassel-Baska, Dr Joyce; MacFarlane, Dr Bronwyn et al. | Parenting for High Potential, December 2017 | Go to article overview

The Need for Second Language Learning


VanTassel-Baska, Dr Joyce, MacFarlane, Dr Bronwyn, Baska, Ariel, Parenting for High Potential


Since the 1700s, the study of world languages has long been a valued component of a rich liberal arts education. However, an insidious shift began in the early 21st century with the decline in local resources for second language course offerings. The need for second language learning has not abated, but the availability of second language learning opportunities certainly has.

Why has the pendulum swung against second language educational opportunities? This decline may be attributed to a variety of influences, including the current accountability movement that has taken focus away from world language electives in the K-12 arena and increased the attention of educators, politicians, and community members to the core content areas of language arts, mathematics, and STEM. Perhaps the trend toward globalization has focused more on the preparation of scientists and other STEM-related career professions than on the preparation of those able to communicate successfully in a second language.

However, one might argue that the need to provide second language learning to students in this country has never been greater. Dual language acquisition can provide a profound global perspective, and students with skills across multiple languages can understand how others perceive the world with more acuity than mono-lingual speakers.

In addition, a new level concern has been reached about the United States' relationship: with other countries-the need to engage with them in partnerships on trade and the economy has become imperative. Moreover, the lack of tolerance and understanding toward other cultures and religions has heightened, with little hope of being reduced in the absence of understanding others to a greater degree and showing empathy for their beliefs and values. The learning of other languages is an important antidote to cultural intolerance while simultaneously addressing the needs of globalization.

Teaching World Languages to Gifted Learners

Second language learning carries high interest and a natural connection to another symbol system that can provide high challenge and complexity, two preferences the gifted have for learning. An "optimal match" between the characteristics of the learner and available opportunities can be considered appropriate interventions. Here are a few examples of how second language learning is an appropriate match for the verbally talented student.

The gifted have advanced vocabularies and love to learn new words and phrases. Second language learning provides the opportunity to learn many new words, several which directly derive from English words. Even more common are the roots and stems of words from other languages, especially Latin and Greek, which may be found in English, thus enhancing English vocabulary fourfold or more.

The gifted have inquisitive minds and curiosity about the origin of things. Second language learning of the romance languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, and Latin, enhances one's understanding of the history of Western Civilization and, therefore, the basis of our society. The culture of Western Europe is evident in many of contemporary Western societal structures and in the many artifacts left behind by the Greeks and Romans all over the world, but particularly in Italy, Greece, Turkey, France, Britain, as well as the Middle East.

The gifted have complex thinking abilities that are enhanced by linguistic comparative analysis. Gifted learners can enjoy the complexities of the study of a language that has many characteristics similar to English but also is different in its grammatical structure and forms. They can engage in a constant comparative analysis of language through such study. Vocabulary study can yield many new words and insights about language that should delight and astound them. They may also enjoy learning about the lives of famous people and events associated with the culture of these world languages.

The gifted have the capacity to make connections among diverse ideas. …

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