ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH FLES: Young Learners Benefit from Foreign Language Study

Record: Carolyn Taylor, and Robert LaFayette, “Academic Achievement Through FLES: A Case for Promoting Greater Access to Foreign Language Study Among Young Learners” in The Modern Language Journal, (2010): 22-42. [Available Here]

Summary: Carolyn Taylor is a Professor of Education at the University of Wyoming. Her main focus is on secondary teaching. Robert LaFayette is an Emeritus Professor at Louisiana State University. He specializes in curriculum and instruction. Together these two professors collaborated to develop their common interest on the impact of early foreign language learning on academic achievement. Their study takes place on fifth graders who were introduced to foreign language in their third grade classes. This program is called FLES (Foreign Language Early Start).

The authors compared the test scores of third, fourth, and fifth graders who were part of the foreign language program to children of the same age who had no additional language education. Each of these results play an integral role in determining the importance of the FLES program in elementary schools nationwide.

The first question asked was whether or not third graders were affected academically by the integration of foreign language in the first year. The results concluded that there was a minor increase in grades but nothing dramatic in the first year of learning. The authors go on to explain that these results are not negative because they hypothesized that the increased academic performance would occur on the long term scale.

FLES students scored higher than regular students during the fourth grade exams. The standard deviation between the grades were higher than those in third grade. Fourth grade students showed a slightly more significant advantage to those students who had not received any foreign language schooling. The authors were impressed with the increase in scores but said that they should continue to get higher as the children get older.

Grade five students participating in the foreign language elementary school program had significantly higher scores on specific subjects compared to their non-foreign language peers. The exams included a combination of reading, language, math, social studies, and science sub-tests. There was a slight increase in scores for reading, math, and science however there was a significantly greater increase on performance for social studies and language.

The results concluded that students outperformed the non-foreign language learners on specific test subjects. Students who were involved in the FLES program had a greater advantage on the english language arts, mathematics, science and social studies exams. In conclusion, Taylor and LaFayette strongly suggested that schools nationwide introduce the FLES program into their elementary buildings. Although the initial results were not significantly greater, LaFayette and Taylor used the discussion and further research sections to assure that as the students furthered their education, their scores would continue to increase. One explanation for wide spectrum in scores is becasue foreign language learners developed cognitive advantages through an enhanced memory. In the long term, the students who were introduced to a foreign language early on exhibit life long benefits.

Appraisal: Though neither of the authors teach foreign language to young learners they present an interesting argument through their study. Although the data in their research is not a great example of the difference in academic achievement, the authors promised that through further research the gap would increase even greater. This will help to prove the importance of early age foreign language learning. Overall, I found the data from this research very intriguing because it discussed real world examples from a program implemented in a school in Louisiana. The students were actually experiencing what the authors had intended. The claims that were made throughout the study were supported by facts and charts that easily explained why the students were improving their testing and academic achievement.

This study was very well written. The authors took their time to put together a piece of work that would be beneficial to take the time and read. I felt very well informed from the information presented about the research. The authors wrote the most on the sections that were important. I clearly understood the results and discussion. I think that further research about older students in the FLES programs would have outstanding results in promoting the importance of early childhood foreign language education throughout the United States.

Jessica Mayer, Messiah College, Student