Why Summer Learning Needs to Include International Studies—Even for K-5 Students

By Angela Jackson

Tangerines and lemons are two things that are great to enjoy in the summer but did you know the origins of these words are Arabic?

This is just one example of how we can help young people understand and appreciate different languages and cultures. It’s important to realize that these lessons can happen outside of a classroom and that summer is a great time to bring them to life.

Research shows that all students lose, on average, about two months of math skills during the summer. In reading, low-income students typically fall behind by more than two months on average.

We also know that 21 of the 25 industrialized countries begin the study of world languages in K–5. By starting in middle school or later, we are unfairly preventing our young people from succeeding in the 21st century economy.

So the 90 days or so of summer are a great time to make a difference in a fun way! Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage your children to check-out bilingual books and learning materials from libraries. There are many online as well. Let them know that you are engaged in the world by dusting off your French lessons from years ago or sitting down beside them ready to learn as well.
  • Create a game or contest to see how many kids in the house or neighborhood can learn a phrase from another language and use it. Again, many of these learning resources are available at a library or online.Summer Learning Day, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association, is June 21. See what events are taking place near your home and find out if they can add an international component: http://www.summerlearningdaymap.org/
  • Older kids could research how children around the world spend their summer vacations. For instance, in Chile, summer vacation lasts from mid-December to early March. Kids interested in geography will have fun figuring out why.
  • While too much TV is a bad idea, the upcoming Olympics in London will be a great way to bring the family together. During the Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony, have your kids find the nations on a map. Maybe make different foods from each nation during each night of the Olympics. Try to have them learn a new word in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish when athletes from these countries compete.

All of this focus on international study, especially languages, can have a big payoff down the road.

The National Institutes of Health has released new research that found children who grow up speaking two languages are better at multi-tasking than children who speak one language. Researchers asked the children to switch between different tasks and found that bilingual children made the change faster than students who learn only one language.

Most of all, have a good summer! Or, as we say in Spanish, “¡Que tengan un buen verano!”

Angela Jackson is the founder and executive director of the Global Language Project www.globallanguageproject.org, which seeks to bring the study of international languages to elementary schools. She is fluent in English and French.