It's Thursday morning at Lake Forest Country Day School, and Mrs. Baurer and Mrs. Robinson's Preschool class is settling down for their fourth Spanish lesson of the school year. Maria Hempen, Lower School Spanish and music teacher, starts off by singing a song in which each student has to sing "Yo me llamo ("My name is") followed by their own names. At first, the students stare at Señora Hempen,
wide-eyed, but almost instantly, they get into the groove. Excited shouts of "Yo me llamo Maddie!" and "Yo me llamo Arjun!" soon fill the classroom.
A few hours later, another song filters out of the Lower School Mandarin Chinese classroom. A closer look reveals a group of first grade students in a circle, singing a birthday song. One of the students recites his age—six—to instructor Jo Cheng, and is rewarded with a high-five and a chance to “blow out his candles” by erasing them off a hand-drawn cake on the classroom’s whiteboard. Directly across from the Chinese classroom, Lower School French teacher Sylvie Vanhoozer readies her classroom for her second- and third-grade students she’ll teach later in the afternoon.
The 2012-2013 school year marks the first time three world languages will be taught in LFCDS’ Early Childhood Program (ECC) and Lower School, a curricular change that was made with the goal of better preparing young students for an increasingly global society. Studying multiple languages in elementary school has been found not only to prepare students for later language learning, but also to enhance self-esteem, appreciation of history and culture, and―perhaps surprisingly―literacy skills in the student’s native language.
The adjusted curriculum is divided by grade level and language. Spanish language is taught in preschool and junior kindergarten, as many young children have already had some exposure to the Spanish language. The two years of study will provide a foundation for learning other languages with different sounds and syntax. "I speak only Spanish during my lessons, and I try to draw parallels between my lessons and what the students are already learning in the classroom," says Señora Hempen. "The goal is to provide rituals to help students process the language. This way, they're not anxious to learn the language later on."
Mandarin Chinese is taught in senior kindergarten as well as first grade. Chinese represents the fastest-growing Eastern language and may be the most important language outside of English in the twenty-first century. The two-year study of Chinese will greatly enrich the first-grade social studies curriculum on China that is already in place at LFCDS. For the Mandarin Chinese instruction, LFCDS is partnering with Language Stars, the leading foreign language center for children. Two Language Stars teachers, Ling Liu and Jo Cheng, have been hired to co-teach the classes, which will draw on Language Stars’ play-based, full-immersion curriculum.
Second- and third-grade students will immerse themselves in a two-year study of French, which will add value to the third-grade social studies curriculum unit on the French voyageurs. Learning French will also aid students in building a broader
vocabulary, as many English words derive from French words. For this portion of the curriculum, LFCDS is thrilled to welcome back Sylvie Vanhoozer, who previously taught Lower School French at the School and returns after a three-year absence. "I look at myself as an ambassador for a another way of life, another way of speaking," Madame Vanhoozer says. "I teach the rudiments of the language through role-play, games, songs, and other activities, and in doing so, I also facilitate an awareness and appreciation for cultural differences."
The final year of Lower School at LFCDS will bring the opportunity to review and
compare all three languages over the course of one year. This will allow fourth-grade students to make an informed choice as to which single language they will study in Upper School. Having experienced all three languages will also enrich the immigration unit and their culminating study of global warming. The fourth-grade units and subsequent four years of focused world language instruction will be taught by the Upper School faculty.
Head of Lower School Mrs. Bullard is excited about the opportunities this new curriculum will offer to students. “LFCDS students who start preschool will graduate from eighth grade having had six years of instruction in three world languages before the age of ten, a time when their brains are best prepared to recognize and differentiate different sounds. They’ll have four years of proficiency study in a world language of their choosing in middle school. We already get feedback from high schools that many LFCDS students place in advanced-level classes in world languages, but this will give them an added advantage,” she says. “Even more important, beyond being prepared to excel in high school and college, LFCDS students are being inspired to be curious about other cultures and comfortable interacting with people who speak languages that are unfamiliar to them. Those are the academic and life skills students need in our global, twenty-first century society.”