Foreign Language: An Early Start

Bellevue School District fosters student fluency and so can you.

When it comes to our children’s education, the only thing we really care about is that they are successful. We hope they will work toward a career that will provide them with a sense of purpose, joy, and one that will set them up for a successful life. In order to do that, the most likely course is with a good college education.

Many parents and students alike may think they aren’t playing for keeps until the student gets to high school, but in reality, planning for college could start as early as kindergarten if you want your child to become proficient in a foreign language — and you should.

Competitively-selective schools like Stanford University require at least three years of the same foreign language while Harvard actually requires four. That’s two semesters a year, for four years.

But Paris Granville, world language curriculum developer for Bellevue School District, said if students wait until high school to start learning foreign languages, it may be much harder for students to gain the kind of proficiency needed to become fluent in their chosen language. Whereas students who begin a foreign language while they are concurrently still learning their own native language will find their fluency is much higher.

“By middle school they are already emerging in intermediate- to high-fluency,” Granville said of students who began foreign language in Kindergarten. “Which is almost what you need, in order to be a teacher of Spanish in this state. We are able to get our kids to high levels of proficiency in a way that serves their needs because some of them come back later and become teachers with us.”

Bellevue Schools have different options in foreign language learning like dual language and immersion school Puesta del Sol, which teaches both native English speakers and native Spanish speakers concurrently in both languages. The district also boasts a similar program at Jing Mei Elementary where Chinese is taught in the same way from Kindergarten, up through the grades.

“By middle school they are already emerging in intermediate- to high-fluency, which is almost what you need, in order to be a teacher of Spanish in this state.”

“In Kindergarten there are a lot of pictures, a lot of visuals,” Granville said. “Kindergarten is very hands- on in the instruction anyway, so the teachers are helping the students understand, and through the process they are actually getting two things, language acquisition and they get content — it’s actually a natural process.”

The district also has several dual language programs at Stevenson, Sherwood Forest, and Lake Hills Elementary schools, all of which help set students up for success.

These programs are not only of benefit to students who want to get a jump start on their college applications, students who are trying to learn English as a second language have a reciprocal relationship with their English speaking peers.

“These immersion programs are the No. 1 preferred language model for English language learners to maintain their home language,” Granville said. “Because we have so many students that are already bilingual, so this supports their needs in a pretty effective way.”

Whatever a student’s home language may be, Granville said the district will continue to honor the city’s uniquely diverse student body, and their respective home languages and traditions.

“I think it is less about the programs and more about the district’s intention of really supporting our students and honoring families’ home language and culture and really offering that opportunity in a unique way to the students. It’s about who we are as a district.”

Bellevue parents that are interested in getting their college-bound toddler interested in foreign language should contact the Bellevue School District and inquire about the lottery system the district uses to fill its dual language schools. Here are a few more ideas to prepare your young child for life-long fluency.

Family Talk

If family members (either immediate or extended) speak a second language, encourage them to speak that language around your child from an early age. Curiosity will always win out and the child will want to learn more.

Label Maker

Spoken language is one thing, but you’ll also want your child to see written language. Purchase or make some fun flash cards with pictures and the spelling of the word in both languages. You can also make labels and affix them to things around the house, and now the entrance to your home is both a door and a puerta.

There’s an App for That

Both Apple and Android have a ton of apps to help to teach young children about foreign languages.


Studies show young children respond positively to melodies and songs. Start a foreign language playlist on your favorite music streaming service. Play the music in the car on the way to school each day and encourage them to sing along.

Total Immersion

Once your child has picked up a great deal of a new language, it may be time for a trip abroad to a place where that language is native. Having to read signs and converse with the locals in order to find a bathroom will cement what they’ve learned and broaden their minds to different dialects.

Be Positive

Encourage and reward your child throughout the learning process. Even though young brains are like sponges, a new language may be a challenge.


is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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