(The following is a guest post from Ali Thomas, co-founder of NiHao Chinese. This summer you can join Ali for the 2019 Passport to China Camp at True North Homeschool Academy. Through the live, online sessions your students will have the opportunity to experience Chinese culture and language from the comfort of your home.)
“But I’m just not a foreign language person!”
How many times have I heard that? As a teacher–too many to count! However, a foreign language is more accessible than one might think. After all, we all learn our first language as a babbling toddler. The human brain is wired for language acquisition. As we get older, we give ourselves messages of why we cannot do something instead of why we can excel. For students with learning differences and special needs, this is a message that they can receive and internalize often, unfortunately.
Let’s break the stereotype. Learning foreign languages is accessible, as are the many benefits of foreign language acquisition–global understanding, cross-cultural competencies, brain development benefits, and empathy development to name a few. Through working with NiHao Chinese, I have seen many students thrive and grow through foreign language study, and the benefits to their self-esteem alone have been inspiring.
Here are FOUR myths that sometimes prevent students, especially students with special needs, from accessing foreign language.
Myth #1 – I’m just not wired that way.
Dr. Howard Gardner popularized the theory of multiple intelligences, saying that individuals may have natural aptitudes in certain fields of study and skills. However, these types of intelligence are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both good at math and art or basketball and Chinese. Humans are social creatures and we are all “wired” to learn and acquire language skills. The human brain learns foreign languages differently than other academic subjects. Have patience with your brain and give yourself time to develop language learning capacities.
Myth #2 – I struggle with English enough as it is.
For students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, there is no doubt that language learning can be a challenge. However, you must remember that it is not always the content itself that presents barriers, but the modes of delivery used in the classroom. In fact, some students with such language disabilities may struggle with spelling and reading in English but can thrive in a foreign language like Chinese because of its unique structure. Chinese is a character-based language–with no alphabet, verb tenses, or other common stumbling blocks for students in the English language.
Additionally, some students find that they understand their own language better after studying a foreign language–I know that was my experience!
Myth #3 – We tried Spanish, and I’m never trying a foreign language again.
If you tried basketball and didn’t like it, would you never try baseball? There are many options for foreign languages to study. Don’t limit yourself or think that one failure means that all language study will be a failure. I’m a big fan of Dr. Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset.” We can set up our own self-fulfilling prophecies around learning. If we think that we are equipped with a “fixed” amount of knowledge, it’s tempting to say that new subjects are out of reach. In contrast, those who view academics with a “growth mindset” see that abilities can be developed with dedication and work.
Maybe your family has tried foreign language study before. Maybe your child wasn’t ready yet. Don’t let rule out all foreign language study for your child. It’s a big world out there!
Myth #4 – Chinese is hard. There’s no way I could handle it!
Accessible learning is often more about the teaching style than the content. With the proper scaffolding, accommodations, and supports, students of all ability levels can access a foreign language curriculum.
For example, accommodations like different pacing, revised vocabulary lists, multiple modes of engagement, and a certified teacher with expertise in teaching students with special needs are all helpful. Live classes also make a big difference for learners.
When a class is dynamic and live, the teacher can tailor the material to a student’s needs. This helps students with learning differences but helps all students in the process. When considering foreign languages for your child, live and dynamic classes often provide more student engagement opportunities and allow the teacher to really get to know your child and how they learn best. (Looking for live foreign language classes? Check out our selection at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Don’t let these four myths prevent your child from accessing the world through a foreign language. It’s a big world out there, and foreign language is one powerful way to connect your kids with global learning and prepare them for the future.Ali Thomas has dedicated her career to connecting students to international education opportunities. She completed her undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University and went on to earn her Ed. M. in International Education Policy from Harvard University. She has her certification in teaching English as a Second Language and has taught world languages to a variety of age groups, from early childhood to adult learners. She is passionate about language learning!
At this point, she has contributed to education projects on six of the seven continents and is always looking for new ways to make international education more accessible and engaging. Before starting NiHao Chinese, she worked as an administrator and director of international programs for a Christian school network. In 2018 she co-founded NiHao Chinese with her business partner to connect more US students with international educational opportunities and promote global understanding through language learning. Ali is passionate about providing children a window to the world through Chinese language instruction with NiHao Chinese.