[lg policy] US: Immersion language programs growing across the country

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 30 15:34:40 UTC 2012

Immersion language programs growing across the country

Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 8:00 am | Updated: 9:02 am, Sun Jan 29, 2012.

By Alyse Shorland CNN News Service

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 last week: the English language. At Monday’s debate
in Florida, Newt Gingrich said 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
800 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 percent 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 percent of their subjects in English and 50
percent in a second language. Two-way immersion means some students
speak English as their native languages at home, and some might not.

For the 2011-12 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 1st grade,
and the overarching plan for these programs was developed and
supported at a state level.

Roberts said the business community in Utah understands the economic
importance of being fluent in two languages 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. 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.  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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