Two-Way Immersion is Twice As Good
28 Oct 2008

Two-Way Immersion is Twice As Good

An innovative program offered in some Massachusetts

28 Oct 2008

An innovative program offered in some Massachusetts elementary schools is giving kids a chance to become bilingual early—and learn from each other.

This story in the Boston Globe describes how the program, which begins in kindergarten, mixes native English speakers and native Spanish speakers and teaches all subjects in both languages. The article states:

According to parents and educators, two-way foreign-language immersion is giving students a rare opportunity to break down social barriers. And although test scores are likely to lag in the early grades as students grapple with grammar, vocabulary, and math in two languages, they are more likely to outperform other students on high-stakes tests in middle and high school, educators say.

Let’s look at what we already know:

1) Kids learn new languages at the age of six far more easily and quickly than at 16.

2) About 45 percent of all kids in US elementary schools are minorities—and that number will be growing in the years ahead.

3) School districts across the US are recruiting teachers from abroad, many of whom are native speakers of languages other than English.

4) An increasing budget item in many school districts is the ESL program that focuses on teaching non-native speakers of English in a setting separate from the native English speakers.

5) As a nation, we recognize that having our kids speak a foreign language fluently will be a distinct advantage in the global economy.

6) Introducing foreign language instruction in high school rarely results in fluency.

7) Developing a greater awareness and appreciation of other cultures at a young age results in a more global perspective and better communication skills.

At a time when we are facing overwhelming challenges and budget cuts in our schools, we need to look at new ways to both support and leverage our key players–teachers and students. If we want our kids to have an education that provides them with relevant skills, we need to start by recognizing that we have a remarkable resource for language and cultural learning in almost every school in the country: kids who are native speakers of other languages. By using bilingual curricula and native-language teachers in the early grades and encouraging kids to communicate with each other in two languages in all subjects, we can easily expand the number of US students who become both fluent in a foreign language and fully cognizant of the cultures represented right in their own community.

Some solutions are just so darned obvious. By relaxing our ideas about early achievement testing, reconsidering our emphasis on high school foreign language requirements and focusing instead on two-way language immersion in elementary schools, we can create a generation of kids who are beautifully prepared for life in a multicultural world—whether they stay in the US or choose to live and work abroad.

(Guest post by Maya Frost, author of the forthcoming book, The New Global Student:  Skip the SAT, Save Thousands On Tuition, and Get A Truly International Education)

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