Ni How, Hola, and Bonjour! These greetings are becoming a regular part of life for many Utah children, as Morgan County residents found out last Thursday night when Gregg Roberts from the Utah State Office of Education visited Mountain Green Elementary. Mr. Roberts was asked to present the state’s dual immersion program to a gathering of interested residents.
The program starts in first grade and allows children to learn their regular curriculum in two different languages. The students split their time in the classroom 50/50, spending one half of the day speaking and learning in English and the other half of the day solely in another language.
In Utah, 57 language immersion programs are currently being offered in Spanish, Chinese, and French. By the year 2015, the state’s goal is to have at least 100 programs operating, expanding to include German and Portuguese. Not all children in the participating schools are required to participate, dual immersion is offered on a first come, first serve basis. At the meeting, Mr. Roberts shared the many facets of the appeal of learning a second language.
First, the best learning years for a child are between the ages of six and thirteen. “The most difficult language to learn is your second language,” Mr. Roberts explained, so it’s beneficial to start during those formative years.
Second, the world is changing and the global marketplace is influencing how business is conducted. Digital commerce is no longer dominated by the English language. Chinese is the most widely spoken first language in the world, third most commonly spoken in the U.S. Spanish has a more local appeal, because it can be used regularly right here in Utah. Knowing a second language sets individuals apart when applying for college or for work opportunities. Other countries are offering language immersion to their students and it’s important that the U.S. workforce be able to compete in this realm.
Third, studies show that cognitive improvement occurs when learning another language and actual physiological changes occur in the brain.
Fourth, understanding another culture brings greater appreciation and tolerance for others. Fifth, research has shown that children in the immersion program perform academically as well or better than their peers.
Ken Adams, Morgan County School Superintendent, attended the meeting and shared that his concern with implementing a dual immersion program locally was due to a possible future reduction in funding. While the dual immersion program requires no additional expenses to operate (in fact the state gives a supplemental grant worth approximately $10,000/year to participating schools for program supplies), the Morgan County schools may have less funding in 2012 if the economy doesn’t rebound.
Tim Wolff, principal at Morgan Elementary, has participated in an immersion program in the past, and both he and Tom McFarland, principal at Mountain Green Elementary, seemed supportive of the idea. Currently across the nation, there is growing demand for dual language programs. Even in Utah, parents are driving their kids across town to participate. Many parents at the meeting expressed a disappointment that their children already past first grade have missed out on an excellent learning opportunity.
In 2007, a young man from Utah named Kenneth Brewer was ranked #6 nationally among all graduating high school seniors by USA Today. This young man was fluent in English, German, Spanish, and French. His mother served an LDS mission to Austria and spoke only German to her children; Kenneth’s father addressed the family in English.
In essence, the Brewers created their own dual immersion program. All of the Brewer children are encouraged to learn other languages, as well. Before Kenneth’s current mission to Russia, he spent two years at Harvard University preparing for medical school. His knowledge of languages was clearly a stepping stone to his success. Not many households can duplicate the efforts of the Brewer family, so this state sponsored program offers a way for young children to take advantage of their heightened learning capabilities.
If you have questions or want to learn more, you may contact the following state representatives: Sandra Talbot (spanish) at email@example.com or Ofelia Wade (chinese) at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit the state’s website www.utahspanishdualimmersion.org. Other sites where you can find additional immersion information include: www.actfl.org (click on “Membership”, “Special Interest Groups”, “Immersion”) or www.carla.umn.edu/immersion/acie.html or www.nabe.org, or www.nnell.org.
“It takes a village to build an immersion program”, so if you would like to see dual immersion offered in Morgan County, please contact your PTSO or Community Council and ask how you can help.