Yesterday A.C.E. Central Office staff had a chance to watch and review an interesting film about bilingual education called Speaking in Tongues.
The documentary follows the lives of four San Francisco youth who attend bilingual education immersion schools for a myriad of reasons. The very first line of the movie, uttered by one of the student’s mothers, pretty much sums up the crux of the argument for bilingual education: “It’s about being a good world citizen.”
In addition to giving us a glimpse into these four students’ lives, Speaking in Tongues addresses the English Only debate with a subtlety that parallels the issue at the national level. Watching the movie, I was reminded on Claire Kramsch’s quote from her seminal book Language and Culture:
The remark ‘I had ten years of French and I still can’t…’ may be the expression not so much of bilingual failure as of monolingual pride. People who, by choice or necessity, have traditionally been bi- or multilingual, like migrants and cosmopolitans, have often been held in suspicion by those who ascribe themselves a monovocal, stable, national identity.
Indeed, as we see in the film, those who argue against bilingual education in America often do so out of a perceived threat to our national identity. Such a perception runs askance of reality: by 2025, one in four of the students in U.S. public schools will not speak English as their native language. Furthermore, 80% of these students will have been born in America. (Seattle PI) The United States as a whole is becoming more metropolitan. An English only environment is virtually impossible, and by allowing native English speaking students to opt into a bilingual program, they will meet their ESL peers on middle ground.
Furthermore, there is an increasingly evident need for educational policy to keep up with these changes if we want our youth to receive the overall education they deserve. While some states are creating policy which has a detrimental effect on public education, others are enacting beneficial, realistic policy. It is important to note that contrary to popular fears, all bilingual education in the United States meets state mandated curricular standards.
In addition to these practical concerns, there are of course educational and cognitive reasons why we should encourage bilingual education. While bilingual programs aren’t feasible for every student, opportunities for study can be found outside of the regular school day. A.C.E.’s World Language Programs provide such education around Puget Sound and even host summer language camps. If you live in the Seattle area and would like to learn more or enroll your child, visit our WLP website. And of course, check out Speaking in Tongues.