[lg policy] US: The growing alternative to English-only education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 27 15:01:15 UTC 2012

The growing alternative to English-only education

By Alyse Shorland, CNN

(CNN) - Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination are
debating and disagreeing about the economy and foreign policy, but
they backed each other on one issue this week: the English language.
At Monday's debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich said this week he
supports English as an official language of the United States: “I
think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people
to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in,” he said.

Mitt Romney said everyone in school should be learning in English:
“English is the language of this nation,” he said. “People need to
learn English to be able to be successful, to get great jobs.” Romney,
in his 2010 book, “No Apologies: the Case for American Greatness,”
highlighted his support for English-only immersion in Massachusetts
public schools. As governor, he led the state to pass a law against
bilingual education, mandating one year of English-only transitional
language instruction for anyone learning the language before moving to
mainstream classrooms. California and Arizona have similar laws.

But educators across the country are trying a different approach, one
that English-only advocates aren't considering: Immersion training for
non-English speakers - and English speakers. Immersion has several
forms, but generally means students learn their core subjects in two
languages – a primary language, usually English, and a secondary

“What we hear is no dual language, English only,” said Tara Fortune,
immersion project coordinator at the Center for Advanced Research on
Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota. “But what’s
really happening is beneath the surface these programs are really
growing. It’s become sexy.

“Immersion is a program that is about bilingualism, bi -literacy and
multi-literacy." Researchers have seen a growth in immersion education
across the country. The Center for Applied Linguistics estimated there
are about 1200 programs in schools across the nation.  Most are
Spanish and English programs, but a growing number include Mandarin
Chinese, Korean and French. The instruction can be about improving
English skills for the 21% of school-age children in the country who
speak a language other than English at home, but also about
encouraging bilingual skills for English speakers as well.

Utah, one of the most consistently conservative states in the nation,
spearheaded two-way immersion programs over the past few years under
Republican governor and former GOP presidential nominee hopeful Jon
Huntsman. Utah’s language instruction focuses on immersion learning.
In Utah, students learn 50% of their subjects in English and 50% in a
second language. Two-way immersion means some students speak English
as their native languages at home, and some might not.

For the 2011-2012 school year, there are 57 immersion programs in
Utah— 31 in Spanish, 17 in Mandarin Chinese and nine in French. Next
year, the state expects to have 76 programs, said Gregg Roberts, world
languages and dual immersion specialist for Utah’s Department of
Education.  All of the instruction starts in kindergarten or first
grade, and the overarching plan for these programs was developed and
supported at a state level.

Poll: Should English be the official language of the United States?

Roberts said the business community in Utah understands the economic
importance of being fluent in two languages in order to increase
productivity and reach on a global scale. He also noted that these
programs don't cost school districts much to implement. Under the
state plan, schools recruit teachers for core subjects that are fluent
in the immersion languages, be it English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese
or French. The number of teachers in a school does not increase.

“By using the two-teacher model, if you have 50 kids it takes two
teachers no matter what. So we have two groups, A and B, and they
trade off," Roberts said. “And the parents love them and they love
coming here.”  The large Mormon community in Utah also embraces
bilingualism as a missionary necessity, he said. The Mormon religion
encourages its members to travel the world on mission trips to spread
knowledge of Mormonism abroad. The ability to speak a second language
is necessary to communicate in a host country – a fact that even
played out on the campaign trail: Both Mormon presidential hopefuls
spoke second languages, French for Romney and Mandarin for Huntsman.

Delaware recently partnered with Utah to build a similar immersion
instruction program in their state. Dr. Gregory Fulkerson with
Delaware’s Department of Education said they hope to have five
programs implemented next year and are using Utah’s model as an
example of how to structure a state led immersion initiative.  Like
Utah, Fulkerson said, Delaware has an economic incentive to create
dual language programs.  Many of the country’s Fortune 500 companies
are incorporated in Wilmington,Delaware.  Fulkerson said when one
large insurance company in Wilmington decided to expand in Brussels
instead of Delaware, state leaders were left asking, “why?”

The reason the company gave: “The average person in Brussels speaks
three languages,” Fulkerson said, “and the average person in
Wilmington, Delaware, speaks one.”  “Language learning is not just
about a college prerequisite skills, it’s about real world skills,
language learning is about jobs,” Fulkerson said.  “So we have to do a
much better job to create advanced language skills that will keep jobs
in Delaware or create jobs here.”

Fulkerson also noted that while language fluency is important in
business deals, it’s also the softer side of cultural competency that
comes with understanding another language that businesses look for in
an employee. “What businesses really want from the people they hire is
not only advanced language but an ability to communicate culturally -
being appreciative of how to communicate with people of other
cultures,” he said. In the end, Fortune, from the University of
Minnesota, thinks language education comes down to basic principles.

“Language is fundamentally a resource,” she said. “You speak well,
read well, write well, the more opportunities you have in your life
economically. And within the world of language education there is
really positive discourse around helping all kids - English speaking
kids and other language kids - become bilingual and bi-literate.”


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