In Monique Lough's class at Le Lycee International de Los Angeles, a French-American school in Van Nuys, 11 first-graders are halfway through a reading lesson, deciphering words on the chalkboard.
" Es-car-got, " Sabrina Cockrell, 6 reads.
" Oui , and what does the snail carry on its back?" Lough asks in French.
" Un shell," says an anonymous voice.
" En Francais ," Lough answers.
" Une coquille ," says Audrey Craitin, 6, from the back of the classroom.
Meanwhile in the front row, Rachid Bouhamidi, 6, is nonplused. " Un cookie?" he asks. But he recovers quickly and giggles over inventing the latest Franco-American pun.
When the noon bell rings, the students race into the hall to line up two by two as French school tradition dictates. Some don the all-American look, lunch box in hand and backpack flopped over the shoulder; others strap satchels on their backs. As they march to the lunchroom they chat in both English and French, switching easily between the two languages. At the age of 6 they are well on their way toward an academic accomplishment many Americans never attempt: bilingualism.
Why would a parent urge a child to fill his head with two languages? Isn't one enough?
"We used to live in Switzerland and children of friends there spoke two or three languages. It was no problem," said Judith Deutsch, mother of Celine Deutsch, an 11-year-old student at the Lycee International. "I felt stupid there, in Europe, because I could really only speak English. I feel we are ignorant in this country. Once in Europe, I heard a Texan being interviewed on TV, saying, 'The language of Christ is enough for me,' and he meant English. I believe being bilingual opens up your mind."
Marian Laquieze, president of the Parents and Teachers Assn. at the Lycee and mother of Valerie, 11, and Cedric, 6, both students at the Lycee, wanted her children to learn French because it is her husband's native tongue. "My daughter started out in the American public school system and spoke only English. But whenever we went to France or our parents came here, the children could not speak French with their grandparents.
The grandparents, Laquieze said, "felt frustrated. It is extremely sad not to be able to talk with your grandchild. We decided to put the children in the French school, and within a year they could express themselves in French."
Hal Wingard, executive director of the California Foreign Language Teachers Assn., believes that bilingualism gives children an academic advantage. "The classical study of the effect of bilingualism was done by Wallace Lambert of Montreal's McGill University and it showed that bilingual kids were more creative." Children don't link only one word to one object, he said, "and that frees them to manipulate symbols and enhances their thought processes."
Once a parent decides a child should learn a foreign language, the next step is selecting a method of teaching. Parents are frequently confused about methodology, said Madeline Ehrlich, the 46-year-old founder and president of Advocates for Language Learning, a Culver City parent-teacher support group. "What is second language acquisition? When should it begin? Parents don't really know." she said.
According to Russell Campbell, director of the Language Resource Program at UCLA, "The immersion model seems to be the most effective in elementary school. In immersion, there is no formal foreign language instruction. The teachers are not teachers of Spanish as a second language; they are teachers of geography, social studies, math, and they teach that stuff in Spanish."
There is, said Campbell, an advantage to starting young. "The 5-year-old walks into the classroom and the teacher is speaking Spanish. What does he know? He's there, he deals with it. A 12-year-old has the power of reasoning (and therefore may learn at a faster pace), but now his parents' and society's biases impinge on him. This thinking kid can say, 'The hell with this. French is a sissy language anyway.' "
Language Not Required
Parents who hope their children will become bilingual at an early age may be disappointed in the offerings at public schools in the San Fernando Valley area. "Foreign language is not a required subject at the elementary level," said E. Jules Mandel, foreign language specialist in the office of secondary instruction of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"To graduate from high school, students must have had either one year of foreign language"--one period a day, five days a week--"or one year of fine arts instruction," Mandel said.
Other than moving to Culver City, Santa Monica, or San Diego, where intensive foreign language programs are offered in the public schools, a parent can choose from a hodgepodge of private schools in the San Fernando Valley area that offer systematic foreign language instruction.
Monique Mickus, director of the Lycee International, said her school practices "total immersion." According to Mickus, the French curriculum is progressive: "One year builds upon the other. The students are into calculus in high school. From seventh grade on they have to take biology, chemistry every year. In ninth grade students take Spanish or German, and Latin for three years. At the end of 11th grade they keep the languages or do a lot more science and physics."
Other private schools teach more exotic languages--Arabic, Greek, Hebrew--in conjunction with religion. At the New Horizon School in South Pasadena for example, the students are taught Arabic and the ritual prayers of Islam. Each noon, Feryal Mohammed, an Egyptian who teaches Arabic, guides 18 Muslim children onto a large rug--boys on the front half, girls in the back with white head covers--and leads them in saying the "Salah," or prayer.
The Valley is also home to a variety of Saturday morning schools that offer special classes and exams that students of the Los Angeles Unified School District can take for credit toward their high school graduation.
At the San Fernando Valley Chinese School, for example, children learn Cantonese and Mandarin in grades kindergarten through eight.
According to Campbell, such Saturday schools are frequently started by immigrant parents or religious organizations so children can maintain a sense of identity through learning about the language and culture of their ancestors.
What follows is a list of foreign language schools available for residents of the San Fernando Valley area:
New Horizon School, 1955 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, (213) 255-1937. A private full-day school, founded in 1984. Director: Christine Cryer. 70 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 12 to 1. Grades: pre-kindergarten through second. Tuition: $240 a month.
New Horizon offers one hour a day of Arabic language instruction, plus optional classes on Islam. The school is sponsored by the Islamic Center of Southern California. About 80% of the students are Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds, but the school is open to non-Muslims.
Holy Martyrs Armenian Ferrahian School, 5300 White Oak Ave., Encino, (818) 784-6228. A private full-day school founded in 1964. Principal: Gabriel Injejikian. 650 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1. Grades: kindergarten through 12. Tuition: $180 a month.
In addition to regular subjects, the school offers two hours of Armenian language instruction a day (including Armenian literature, history and religion). Classes in English as a second language (ESL) are also available.
Armenian Evangelical School, 13330 Riverside Drive, Sherman Oaks, (818) 907-8149. A private full day school founded in 1982 by the Armenian Evangelical Schools of California. Principal: Aram Booljhoorjian. 260 students with a student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1. Grades: pre-kindergarten through eighth. Tuition: $175 a month.
The school offers classes in Armenian language and literature six times a week and Armenian history and religion twice a week.
San Fernando Valley Chinese School (meets at Andasol Elementary School), 10126 Encino Ave., Northridge, (818) 363-4133. A private Saturday morning school (9:30 a.m. to to 12:30 p.m.) founded in 1972. Principal: Winston Lau. 180 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1. The language levels run from kindergarten through eighth grade, but the school enrolls students age 6 to adult. The school suggests an $80 a semester donation in lieu of an official tuition.
The school, sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Chinese Cultural Assn., features two hours of language instruction and one hour of cultural activities ( tai chi , traditional Chinese dancing, calligraphy) every Saturday.
Le Lycee International de Los Angeles, or French-American School, 14255 Erwin Street, Van Nuys, (818) 994-7525. A private full-day school founded in 1978. Principal: Monique Mickus. 151 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1. Grades: pre-kindergarten through 12, plus an additional grade to train the students who wish to take the French high school diploma examination. Students can also graduate with American high school diplomas, and the school trains them for SAT and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) tests. Tuition ranges from $2,650 for pre-kindergarten to $4,275 for the "13th" grade. Some scholarships are available.
Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles (Valley campus), 5345 Wilhemina Avenue, Woodland Hills, (818) 716-8642. A full-day school founded in 1964. Principal: Pascal Vigel. Eighty-six students at the Valley campus, with a student-teacher ratio that varies from 3 to 1 to 14 to 1. Grades: kindergarten through 12. The school prepares students to receive both French and American high school diplomas, as well as preparation for the TOEFL and SAT. Tuition ranges from $3,905 to $5,150. Some scholarships are available.
At its main campus (3261 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, (213) 836-3464) Le Lycee Francais features two different sections: an American section in which English is the academic language and French is taught as a foreign language, and a section in which French is the academic language and English is taught as a foreign language. Students at the Valley campus are not segregated according to their main language; the curriculum is taught in English and French.
Viewpoint School, 23620 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, (818) 340-2901. A full-day school founded in 1961. Head of school: Robert Dworkosky. 408 students with a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1. Grades: pre-kindergarten through 12. Tuition: pre-kindergarten, $4,300; kindergarten through fourth grade, $4,800;, fifth through eighth grades, $5,300; ninth through 12th grade, $6,200. French and Spanish are taught five days a week in grades seven and eight and four days a week in grades nine to 12 four days a week. Students may choose to begin French classes at the pre-kindergarten level. The school requires a minimum of three years of foreign language study (grades seven through 12) for graduation.
German-American School Assn. (Valley campus), in Bethel Lutheran Church, 17500 Burbank Blvd., Encino, contact Principal Regina Springsteed at (805) 985-2693. A private Saturday morning school (from 9 a.m. to noon) founded in 1954. 65 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1. Ages: 4 to 18. Tuition: $195 a year. (Main campus: 227 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel (213) 622-4268, or contact office manager, Gigi Balian at (213) 693-0223.)
St. Nicholas School, 9501 Balboa Blvd., Northridge (818) 886-6751. A full-day school founded in 1977. Principal: Catherine Pallad. 242 students, with a student-teacher ratio of about 17 to 1. Grades: Kindergarten through eight. Tuition is $170 a month for members of the Orthodox Church community, and $190 for non-members.
The school is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church and religious instruction is mandatory.
Kadima Hebrew Academy, 5724 Oso Ave., Woodland Hills (818) 346-0849. A Jewish community, conservative full-day school founded 18 years ago. Principal: George Lebovitz. School has 275 students, with a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1. Grades: pre-kindergarten through six. Tuition: pre-kindergarten, $2,600; kindergarten, $3,700; first through sixth grade, $4,300.
The school offers classes in regular subjects plus three hours a day of Judaic studies.
Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, 17701 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 368-5781. A full-day school founded in 1972. Principal: Shirley Levine. 475 students, with a ratio of 25 to 1. Grades: kindergarten through nine. Tuition: grades kindergarten through five, $4,680; grades six to nine, $ 5,570. Students have two hours a day of Judaic and Hebrew studies.
Einstein Academy, 15339 Saticoy St., Van Nuys, (818) 994-1442. A Jewish community, full-day school founded in 1980. Principal: Ron Davis. Grades: seven through 12. Sixty-six students, with a student-teacher ratio of 11 to 1. Tuition: $5,500. Financial aid available. Students have 45 minutes of Hebrew and Judaic studies a day.
Japanese Language School Unified System (Valley campus), 8850 Lankershim Blvd., Sun Valley, (818) 767-9279. Private. A Saturday morning school (from 9 a.m. to noon) founded in 1949. Principal: Yoshichika Nokaido. Head instructor: Terue Seino. Ninety students with a student-teacher ratio of about 10 to 1. Grades: kindergarten through six. Students can continue their studies at the main campus, 1218 Menlo Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 383-4706. Tuition is $48 per month, plus $25 for books.
The school teaches conversational Japanese, as well as reading and the different writing systems: Katakana (block letters) Hiragana (script) and Kanji (Chinese alphabet).
San Fernando Valley Japanese Language Institute, 12953 Bransford St., Arleta (818) 896-8612. A Saturday morning school (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) founded 60 years ago. Principal: Kuriyo Anaba. One hundred thirty students, with a student-teacher ratio of about 10 to 1. Grades: pre-school to eight. Tuition is $32 a month plus a $20 registration fee. The school teaches conversational Japanese, as well reading and writing.
Korean Institute of Southern California (Valley campus), 5436 Vesper Ave. Van Nuys, (213) 937-2083. A Saturday morning school (from 9 a.m. to noon). Superintendent: Ki Sung Kim. Principal at Valley campus: Hui Im Chong. Grades: kindergarten through six. School has 283 students. Tuition: $110 a semester. The institute offers two hours of Korean language instruction and one hour of art, calligraphy and music. Main campus: 4900 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, (213) 937-2083.