Why Hebrew, Why Now?
Why Hebrew? The first question is relatively easy to answer since we are a Jewish Day School preparing our students for Jewish life as an adult. Hebrew is the appropriate language to teach at Shlenker and we begin with three year old children by teaching oral language such as Shalom, Shabbat, Abba, Ani, etc. The language progresses in Kindergarten to more oral vocabulary and students begin writing in cursive Hebrew letters in second grade. By fifth grade, most Shlenker students are able to read from the Torah and can recite or chant the prayers easily. Their text books are geared to modern Hebrew and conversational language, and classes are conducted in Hebrew.
Here’s why! New research has begun to chip away at some of our traditional beliefs about second-language acquisition and the benefits acquired with it. This research, completed by the New National Science Foundation, points to the assertion that “we all learned our first language and we can learn a second one.” Previously it was believed that the window for learning a new language is between birth and age seven. It was further believed that the window for acquiring new languages closes almost entirely after puberty. However, interdisciplinary research conducted at several universities suggests that the time frame might be much longer and that students who learn more than one language may become more adaptable in other subjects as well. Babies of English speaking parents seemed to respond to language more than other sounds. It is believed that specialization of sounds occurs during a two month period from eight to ten months old. The researchers discovered during that period, babies start to specialize in sounds of their native language and are less likely to distinguish sounds from other languages. An example of this specialization occurs with English speaking families where the baby will hear the difference between the “L” and “R” sounds. There is also evidence that the personal touch of a native speaking teacher or tutor who demonstrates the second language through gestures and personal anecdotes directly to the child will be more effective than audio or video recordings.
The most exciting news from this research supports the long held belief that children who are exposed to and learn more than one language have greater cognitive flexibility than monolingual children. Children who have learned two languages may have greater adaptability to changes in curriculum or activities than children with only one language, and additionally they exhibit greater flexibility in problem-solving than monolingual students.
This research was taken from Education Week and written by Sarah D. Sparks.