Over Spring Break the New York Times published this
article on the benefits of bilingualism. My thoughts immediately went to Proctor's language immersion programs and the experience students have encountered in these programs over the past thirty eight years.
The above mentioned article notes that historically researchers believed bilingualism hindered a child's academic and intellectual development, however, we now know that the 'workout' a human brain gets by constantly managing interference from one language to another actually strengthens cognitive muscles.
Researchers have wavered on why bilinguals have more effective executive functioning abilities and become better puzzle solvers, however, the most recent research notes, "The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment."
During its transformative years, Proctor's forward thinking leadership made the conscious decision to eliminate world language wavers for students who would otherwise qualify and hold firm to completing two years of Spanish or French (and now Mandarin), while at the same time launching a unique off-campus language immersion programs in Spain
This approach to teaching world languages capitalized on Proctor's foundational commitment to experiential learning, understanding the transformative nature of language emersion. While not every Proctor student returns from Spain or France bilingual, they are incredibly comfortable using the language in day-to-day life abroad and certainly have a heightened awareness to their surroundings.
Tomorrow, ten students completes their first week living with host families in Segovia, Spain. For these students, language mastery develops alongside self-confidence, as structured independence in a foreign country gives birth to levels of self-confidence otherwise unattainable in a classroom setting.
Having an advisee who just returned from a term in Spain, I have directly witnessed the intellectual and emotional maturation that occurs when a school affords the opportunity to study abroad.
For many students, the notion of living with a non-English speaking host family in a small Spanish city for nine weeks is an incredibly daunting task. However, after having conversations with many of the twenty students returning from off-campus programs this winter, each was able to overcome their anxieties and have an incredibly positive experience.
My advisee commented, "The first two weeks in Spain were difficult. Really difficult. We were overwhelmed by living with a host family, relying on our limited Spanish to communicate with everyone, but after a while, we figured it out and it became an incredible experience. Far better than I could have ever anticipated." His parents shared similar sentiments (see picture captions to the right).
As Proctor en Segovia co-directors Eva and Derek Mansell launch their final term at the helm of the program after 32 years of service to Proctor, we anxiously anticipate the transformation of yet another group of students who will take a significant step closer to being bilingual during their nine weeks in Spain. As one parent commented of Derek and Eva, "Both of these individuals are seasoned pros at what they do. Their expertise combined with their perceptiveness, trust and patience with the students made for an invaluable experience for our son!"
Since this post was inititally published, further research was released here
to further support Proctor's approach to teaching world languages.