There is a very promising program that is just getting off the ground in our schools. It’s called the Foreign Language Academy of Glendale, and it is based on a very educationally sound objective. Children who learn more than one language are better students, get better jobs and are generally better equipped to function in a world where knowledge of multiple languages is at a premium.
We’d like to eventually have all of our children in all of our schools be bilingual.
English, of course, remains the centerpiece of language instruction in each and every school, but there is very solid evidence, based on mountains of research, that being bilingual provides an undeniable advantage to all of our students.
Before mentioning exactly what those advantages are, I want to be clear on one thing. It is our stated — and I must say, solemn — responsibility to provide every opportunity for our children to succeed in school. They deserve the very best we can offer, which includes providing them with tools to compete, to grow and to make the most of their potential. The world in which we live grows increasingly interdependent and competitive, and we can ill afford continuing to be “the most monolingual nation in the world.”
But there are more compelling reasons for our kids to become multi-linguistic. Advanced knowledge of two languages has been shown to result in specific enhancements to brain activity. These would include increased test scores, greater creativity (which confers benefits to all subjects our children study) and flexibility and improved literacy skills.
Because they know two languages, bilingual students are much more sophisticated than monolingual students in terms of understanding something very important about how language works.
Currently, we have “dual immersion programs” at Edison, Jefferson, Keppel and Franklin elementary schools.
A dual immersion program comprises 50% students whose families speak Spanish (or Korean or Armenian) and 50% students whose primary language is English or another language. Students are integrated throughout the school day learning both content and literacy in two languages.
There are more than 300 two-way immersion programs in the United States that are already experiencing very successful results.
What schools are finding out is something that European schools have known for some time — that there are lifelong academic, social, cultural and intellectual advantages that come with learning an additional language.
This program has so many good things going for it. Its potential for raising the level of achievement for our children, eventually all of our children, is something that we — educators, parents, residents — all have a stake in.
There is no question that our language shapes the way we think about and represent things.
Children who learn two languages also learn that different people have different ways of perceiving the world. Bilingual children have an advantage in seeing that one perspective is not better or worse than another, only different. That translates to an open mind, which are two of my favorite words.
While we attend to curriculum standards and state mandates, we cannot lose sight of the fundamental objectives of education that will serve our children well beyond their graduation from our schools.
I’m very excited about this new program, and I extend an open invitation to the community to come and see for themselves how our children are stretching their minds and raising their sights.
As educators, we are asked to do our best to prepare our children for the future, and this program, I firmly believe, is a giant leap in that direction.
MICHAEL ESCALANTE is the superintendent of the Glendale Unified School District.