CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois University students are taking part in a seven-week program where they teach Jefferson Elementary School fourth-graders a different language.
Six Eastern students are teaching these children Spanish, French and German, with French being the most popular, as part of an after-school program.
Christiane Eydt-Beebe, EIU Foreign Language Department director, said she believes it is vital to have an understanding of another language and a different culture, especially at early ages.
“In this globalized world it is important to be able to understand other cultures in order to participate in a globalized society,” she said.
While these students are not taught grammar, they are taught basic words and familiar phrases in other languages that pertain to everyday life.
Eydt-Beebe said it is really just a foot in the door to another language and culture. As with other schools at this level, Jefferson does not offer language classes. Normally, the earliest a foreign language is taught is in high school.
“It is quite late for a child to learn a language,” the director said of that grade level. “During the age of 6 and 10, they are very gifted as far as accent goes. The earlier you learn a language the more you are basically likely to lose your accent.”
By high school, students often lose the ability to pronounce foreign languages correctly and overcome their accent. Being taught at an earlier age, Eydt-Beebe said, they are also more likely they are to be interested in the language moving forward.
Eastern student Adam Robertson said by the second week of the program, the students were clamoring to learn a different word in French, which he taught.
“They were running in to get in the door (to learn),” Robertson said. “They were excited.”
The EIU students, who range from foreign language majors with teacher certification or just those who are interested, enroll in the program, which counts for one to three credits. Before enrolling, they must have a certain amount of education already in foreign language prior to participating in the program.
The Eastern students create a lesson plan that is designed to be easily understood and digested. Each of the six students teaches a group of around eight to 10 children.
They teach the elementary students basic words like “dog” through more visual activities instead of just giving them the work in English and the other language, which helps to retain the words in another language.
Eydt-Beebe said language is not learned through sheer memorization, but also through conversation.
Even though the program is largely focused on getting children excited to delve further into foreign languages later in life, they do retain a good amount of what is taught through the early effort, Eydt-Beebe said.
The children are not only introduced to the languages of different people, but also their culture on certain days in the seven-week program.
For instance, in the Spanish-taught groups, the students learn about Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a tradition in Spanish-speaking cultures in which they honor and celebrate the dead.
Being open to other cultures is beneficial even outside of learning another language, Robertson said.
“These earlier experiences are kind of just a gateway to making them more receptive to new things,” he said.
The Foreign Language Program also takes place in spring semester but for first- through fourth-graders at Shiloh Elementary School in Hume.