In the not so distant future, speaking a foreign language may be yet another thing elementary school children can do with ease. Take for instance Utah and Delaware, where state money is being used to implement foreign language immersion programs. This is in light of the U.S. Dept. of Education’s recent zeroing out of federal dollars for foreign language programming.
Foreign language immersion refers to a process of instruction in which students learn a second language and such second language is used as medium to teach the school’s curriculum. In other words, classroom instruction is done only through the second language being taught.
“We’re sort of in a strange situation where we see these pockets of support as well as some interesting grassroots phenomenon with respect to language instruction,” Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) Executive Director William P. Rivers told VOXXI. “There are new Chinese programs popping up in high schools in Mississippi in part because of the Language Flagship program. There are summer language camps called STARTALK that are funded by the Director of National Intelligence’s office.”
JNCL-NCLIS has a mission plan of ensuring Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language, to advance the language profession in the U.S., and to raise awareness about the importance of language and international education.
In fact, a 2008 Center for Applied Linguistics study showed that 25 percent of elementary schools, 58 percent of middle schools and 91 percent of high schools offer foreign language instruction.
Benefits of foreign language immersion
Rivers admitted data on foreign language immersion of elementary age school children is minimal, but a new study kicked off this past summer in Portland, Ore. by the American Councils for International Education and nonprofit think-tank Rand Corp. The three-year review is being funded by a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
“The results generally show the more language kids get, the more striking the results are,” Rivers said. “They score better on all sorts of standardized measures, whether it’s first language literacy, mathematics and more. And there’s lots of other data on socio-economic outcome. People who speak a foreign language tend to make more money. Something like 3 percent on average regardless of the field, assuming they also speak English.”
The notion of elementary school foreign language immersion is being driven by forward-thinking educators, government officials and business leaders. For proof, look no further than the languages catering to the global marketplace. Naturally, Spanish remains popular but programs across the country include Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese and Korean.
Moving forward, Rivers said polling data over the past decade shows there is momentum behind K-12 foreign language programming. This is due to America’s ever-increasing diverse society.
“The demographics are going to push that but it’s going to be kind of a longer timeframe than some of my colleagues would like in terms of seeing not just increased support for foreign languages but increased foreign language programming in our schools,” Rivers said. “There’s always countervailing tendencies such as budgetary and curricular pressures that kind of push back on being able to put foreign language in but overall looking down the road we have a pretty bright future.”