What the country is saying about Utah’s language immersion program

First The New York Times, now Time Magazine. Utah’s language immersion program is growing and continuing to draw national attention.

I’m not sure I agree with Jeffrey Kluger, the author of this Time Magazine piece who says, “The idea behind [Utah’s] program has less to do with the usual talk about a globalizing world and America’s need to become a polyglot nation if it’s going to compete effectively with China and other rising economies–though that’s part of it–and more to do with the nimble minds of the boys and girls doing the learning.”

The neurological benefits of bilingualism are well researched and comprehensively described by Kruger. But my guess is that parents enrolling their children have myriad motivations: from preparing their children to succeed in a globalized economy to expanding their academic and cultural horizons.

Regardless, it’s about time America embraced multilingualism. As Utah language immersion specialist Gregg Roberts is quoted in the Time story as saying: “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.”

Time Magazine has a pay wall, but here’s a teaser to entice you to read more. It’s worth the money!

“All over Utah, elementary-school students are joking and studying and singing and reading and fluently speaking in languages not their own: French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and, soon, Portuguese. They are part of one of the most ambitious total- immersion language-education programs ever attempted in the U.S. It kicked off in the 2009 school year with 1,400 students in 25 schools and by this fall will include 20,000 kids in 100 schools–or 20% of all the elementary schools in the state, with nearly 95% of school districts participating up through grade 12. …..

The idea behind the program has less to do with the usual talk about a globalizing world and America’s need to become a polyglot nation if it’s going to compete effectively with China and other rising economies–though that’s part of it–and more to do with the nimble minds of the boys and girls doing the learning. Research is increasingly showing that the brains of people who know two or more languages are different from those who know just one–and those differences are all for the better. Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.”

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