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Foreign Language for Children

It has been along time ago, exactly in September 1993, the international conference in language
teaching held in Padang, West Sumatara, Indonesia. The topic was about foreign language, especially
English for elementary schools. It was creating controversies. It also made the discussion split into two
groups. One is the cons and the other is the pros.

For the cons, they had their own arguments which appear up to now relevant. They argued that
a foreign language was dangerous for children’s’ life. They said that foreign language could damage the
children’s first language. They explained that in the early age of acquiring the first language, children
should not be disturbed by any foreign language.

Again, the cons group stated that while acquiring the first language (regional language) the
children are still learning the national language. That is the fact that has happened so far. In Indonesia,
children can speak their first language in their own region, such as Javanese, Madurese, Balinese and
many other regional languages.

The national language in Indonesia is Indonesian language which is in fact a lungua-franca,
connecting one region to another. Without this national language, Indonesia with its more than 17,000
islands, the nation will not be able to interact or communicate one another. That is all the facts used for
arguments by the cons group who were against foreign language learning program for elementary
school students.

What about the pros group? They also had the arguments based on linguistics references.
Based on the human brain process of splitting (lateralization) as found by the neurologist, it must be
started at the age of 13 years. That is the school age for elementary schools or the first year of
secondary schools. According to this theory, human beings who learn any foreign language after the
process of lateralization will find it more difficult.

Therefore, children should also learn other foreign language before the process of the brain
splitting. The process of which the brain has been divided into two divisions: left hemisphere and right
hemisphere. When this process has been started, learning foreign language will not be quickly effective
or efficient. So, the pros at that time warned the cons group by reminding them of such theory.

The more critical one is that, in fact, there is another finding of the research, stating about the
time of lateralization process. Even, according to the latest research finding, the process of lateralization
is started at the age of five. If this is used as the reference, then learning foreign language should be
started even before the age of five.

During 1993 to 1998 the cons and the pros were still upholding their own principles. After the
political reform in Indonesia which occurred in 1998, with the overthrown of the Indonesia second
president, people have been so independent. Everyone, everywhere is always open to each other.

From then on, the nation is free and ideas have come up. Foreign languages, especially English
can be taught in primary schools. Even it has been taught in kindergartens. Realizing that the process of
lateralization started at the age of five, more parents even send their children to English courses. In
that situation, it can be inferred that the policy of language teaching for the nation is a matter of
political domain.

When the political domain is not possible for the nation to create ideas, anything cannot come
true. The fact is that the people in a country are living in the political capsule. They have been so much
encapsulated in the political domain that they are not creative. Based on such a condition, the most
important thing is the great effort by the intellectuals shouting for democracy and human rights.

Without such an effort, people will be encapsulated by the red tape bureaucracy.
Dr. Djuwari is a linguist, the director of language laboratory, STIE Perbanas Surabaya, Indonesia.

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