Languages

At Avenues, learning another language is more than an academic pursuit; it is a daily practice that transforms the way students see and think about the world. We don’t teach Chinese or Spanish; we teach in Chinese or Spanish. From nursery to 5th grade, students spend 50% of their time learning in their second language and 50% learning in English: one day in English, one day in Chinese or Spanish, and so on. This mental transition is supported by the physical environment that we have designed to house our program, in which students move between paired classrooms differentiated only by the language seen, heard and spoken inside. Through immersion in these rich and stimulating environments, and with the support of world-class faculty, students learn languages as tools of daily communication that will be useful for the rest of their lives.

In 6th grade, students transition from the immersion program into intensive study of their chosen language, which continues through graduation and provides a path to expert proficiency. Students entering the Upper Division are grouped by proficiency in either Chinese or Spanish; introductory courses are offered for those with no prior experience. In the intensive program, students learn language from and within context, completing interdisciplinary projects with real-world application and strong cultural connections. Upper Division students have frequent opportunities to put their language skills into practice, including in extracurricular language clubs, community engagement and on study abroad programs provided by Global Journeys.

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Knowing multiple languages opens up untold cultural, intellectual and professional pathways through the world. It also literally opens a child’s mind: bilingual education activates and expands parts of the brain untapped by monolingual study. Research shows that learning and speaking more than one language improves the brain’s executive functions—a set of interrelated neural processes that we use in our daily lives to make plans, solve problems and perform other mentally demanding tasks. Bilingual education has been shown to improve the following functions:

  • Ignoring distractions to stay focused
  • Switching attention from one topic or activity to another
  • Holding information in mind
  • Mental flexibility
  • Metalinguistic awareness (the ability to understand how language works)

In other words, becoming bilingual helps you concentrate, multi-task and identify important information while filtering out irrelevant information—foundational skills that are more crucial than ever in the digital age. Bilingual students also enjoy purely academic advantages: studies demonstrate that immersion students achieve as well as, or better than, their non-immersion peers on standardized measures of literacy and numeracy administered in students’ first language.

The benefits of bilingualism aren’t just cognitive. Social and personal advantages include deeper cross-cultural understanding, improved self-esteem and enhanced professional competitiveness. There are also health benefits to knowing a second language well: recent studies have shown that bilingualism may help prevent or delay the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease later in life. While learning a language is a rigorous workout for the brain at any age, when you start with immersion at the age of three, it’s a life-changing workout which comes naturally.

In this video, Nancy Schulman, director of the Early Learning Center, discusses the benefits of language immersion with Dr. Myriam “Mimi” Met, a language immersion expert and independent consultant who helped design our program before Avenues opened in 2012. Dr. Met has over 25 years of experience supervising and directing foreign language instruction in school districts around the United States and was director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland.

Citations

Bialystok, E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: The benefits of bilingualism. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale, 65(4), 229-235.

Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Green, D.W., Gollan, T.H., 2009. Bilingual minds. Psychol. Sci. Public Interest 10, 89–129. http://dx.doi. org/10.1177/1529100610387084

Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Luk, G., 2012. Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16 (4), 240–250. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.03.001

Christoffels, I. K., de Haan, A. M., Steenbergen, L., van den Wildenberg, W. P., & Colzato, L. S. (2015). Two is better than one: bilingual education promotes the flexible mind. Psychological research, 79(3), 371-379.

Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., van Den Wildenberg, W. P. M., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S. T., La Heij, W., et al. (2008a). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 302–312.

Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13(02), 253–262.

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"IF YOU TALK TO A MAN IN A LANGUAGE HE UNDERSTANDS, IT GOES TO HIS HEAD. IF YOU TALK TO HIM IN HIS LANGUAGE. THAT GOES TO HIS HEART."

- Nelson Mandela

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