Setting Your Child Up for Multilingual Fluency
Understanding the benefits of learning a second (or third) language isn’t unique to Waldorf education. A lot of research has been done that shows how children are especially well-suited to learning a non-native language. Specifically, the neuroplasticity of the young child’s brain is unequaled in any other stage of life and enables the child to absorb language, discern meaning, and imitate with a correct accent. In addition, there are far-reaching benefits to learning another language: stronger communication skills, better academic performance, more creativity, improved memory, and ability to multitask are just some examples cited by Cambridge University and the National Education Association.
Beyond the academic benefits, there are some just-fun reasons. Learning another language cultivates fraternity, and strengthens understanding and curiosity, of other cultures and ways of life. It also opens doors to travel and work — allowing people to find joy and excitement.
But the ways in which Waldorf teachers bring this education go beyond memorization and test-taking. In Waldorf schools, world languages are taught beginning in first grade with storytelling, recall, and movement. For example, a teacher may tell a first grade classroom a story in another language, with a lot of physical movement to illustrate what’s happening. Young students are often more comfortable with not understanding every word and allow the language to simply wash over them, learning by imitation.
In grades 4-5, lessons move to be more "feeling," and the concepts grow more challenging. Waldorf students do their own writing in another language or read short stories in another language. Simple plays where students can act out common exchanges in another language are fun.
Middle school years move into "thinking" and bring even more complex work. For example, at High Mowing School, Maestra Silvia and Señora Bryan introduced the Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition of respectfully remembering the passing of loved ones to their middle school Spanish classes. It’s during these years that more emphasis lands on grammar and word structure.
The first Waldorf school was founded by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, and world languages have been fundamental to the Waldorf approach ever since. Steiner’s view on teaching world languages has been summarized by Christof Wiechert — a Waldorf teacher and writer, co-founder of the Waldorf teacher seminar in the Netherlands, and board member of the Anthroposophical Society in the Netherlands — as follows: "Foreign languages must be learned entirely from the human encounter, from the conversation between teacher and pupils, from dialogue: just as it happens with the mother tongue, through verbal interaction: comprehension and the ability to speak must arise out of the activity."
As you carefully consider the learning environment you want for your child, you probably have a lot of questions.
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