Can Language Immersion Lead to Enhanced Creativity?

June 24, 2010 07:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Utah's elementary school language immersion programs could encourage students to live abroad, an experience that studies suggest improves creative problem-solving abilities.

A New Route to Creativity

News of the "dual immersion" language programs offered in 21 Utah elementary schools, reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, comes on the heels of an intriguing study establishing evidence of a link between living abroad and enhanced creativity.

In the study, published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, students were presented with challenging construction tasks requiring them to think creatively—attach a candle to a wall without allowing wax to drip on the floor, for example. Researchers concluded that students who'd lived abroad tended to think up "the most creative solution," according to Scientific American.

Theoretically, those who learn a foreign language are more likely to take the leap and actually live abroad, which suggests that Utah's program could produce a new generation of creative students.

Background: Foreign language programs in Utah and Kansas

Officials in Utah point to multiple benefits of the program, including preparing students for global business, and instilling an appreciation of foreign cultures. In addition, "two years of test scores show students in the program are on par or a few points ahead of their peers," according to The Salt Lake Tribune, perhaps indicating the heightened overall learning abilities of bilingual students.
Beginning in first grade, students can study Mandarin, French or Spanish for half of every day, and are expected to be "bilingual, biliterate and bicultural" by the time they reach sixth grade, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Nearby Brigham Young University, "a major American center for language study," has benefited the program, but maintaining a staff of language teachers remains a challenge.

Schools in other states are finding ways to promote foreign language learning without making significant curriculum changes, however.

In April, students from 47 different Kansas schools attended the annual Foreign Language Field Day at Missouri Southern State University, reported The Joplin Globe. During the event, students "competed in events testing their language skills and creativity" and took abbreviated MSSU language classes in Arabic and Chinese.

For some students, including 17-year-old Trevor Tanner of Cassville High School, the event sparked an interest in foreign travel. Tanner says he now wants to plan a trip to Paris. 

"I feel like I could go to another country and understand what people are saying," he told The Joplin Globe.

Qwidget is loading...

Related Topic: Project-based learning and creativity

Many schools are turning away from a focus on test preparation brought on with No Child Left Behind. Instead, schools are taking a project-based learning approach that incorporates a "21st Century Learning" curriculum.

For example, Oregon teacher Michael Geisen, who received the National Teacher of the Year award in 2008, emphasizes collaboration and creativity in the classroom. According to The Oregonian, "Geisen's signature teaching style emphasizes inventive lessons that keep students singing, moving and paying attention." While traditional subjects are not neglected, they are infused with a touch of whimsy and fun; Geisen ensures that his students "exercise their creativity, connect to other people and laugh a lot."

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines