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Lost in translation

More language instruction is urged

May 26, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — To retired teacher Patrick LoConto, exposing Americans to other languages is so important, he was willing to drive to D.C. to make that point last week.

"If I were to create a foreign language program for Southbridge, I'd go back to what we had in the 1970s and '80s, with the addition of starting in elementary school — third or fourth grade," he said after returning. High school students used to have French or Spanish for 45 minutes five days a week after a partial-year of either language in seventh and eighth grade.

Today, starting so early is very rare, despite evidence showing that children learn languages much more easily at younger ages. According to UMass-Amherst Professor Edwin Gentzler, director of the UMass Translation Center, "Language acquisition uses multiple areas of the brain and as you get older, those areas 'harden'," so best results are seen starting even before third grade.

To Gentzler, the United States "is going to have to keep up" with rapid changes in global society, some of them already apparent in recent immigrant patterns. While previous generations worked hard to assimilate, newcomers from around the world are trying to both learn English and keep their native tongues. The latter is aided greatly by the Internet, which enables them to speak their languages in real time, read their nation's publications in their languages, and have other forms of access to their culture without having to spend a lot to travel or call home.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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