Tag Archives: bilingual

A-list parents pay big $ to have kids learn Mandarin

Surprise! Demand for Mandarin language programs is growing, according to Reuters. Some parents don’t have access to public programs and are having to shell out thousands to send their kids to international schools and bilingual summer camps.

If you have deep pockets, you might be interested in the story, which lists some of the multiplying pay-to-play learning opportunities. An excerpt:

“(Reuters) – If famed investor Jim Rogers is known for one trait above all, it is for spotting themes early — and betting on them big. So when the co-founder of The Quantum Fund (with George Soros) and author of “Adventure Capitalist” became a father, he naturally thought of how best to give his daughters an advantage.

His answer: Have them learn Mandarin.

“I am spending a lot of time, money and energy to be sure my kids do it,” Rogers told Reuters.

Indeed. Instead of just hiring a Mandarin-speaking nanny or having his daughters take a language class or two per week, the Rogers family packed up their belongings and moved across the world to Singapore.”

Illinois now providing bilingual instruction to all preschoolers

Illinois this year becomes the first state to provide bilingual education to all preschoolers who don’t speak fluent English. Here’s a fascinating ground-level look inside one of the state’s classrooms by the Chicago Tribune.

“With his navy slacks and dress shirt still creased from his mother’s iron, 4-year-old Edenzoe Diaz reported for his first day of preschool to learn his letters in English and Spanish.

He got his first lesson as he stepped into the classroom. Teacher Tania Miranda asked her newest student to copy the letters of his name onto an attendance sheet.

“Primero, esta letra,” Miranda said, pointing to the “E” on his nametag.

Edenzoe speaks no English, his mother said. But in this bilingual classroom at Chicago’s Edwards Center for Young Learners — a public school in the shadow of Midway Airport — he will receive the same support that for years has been offered starting in kindergarten.

As the school year begins, Illinois becomes the first state to mandate that public schools with preschool programs offer a bilingual education to 3- and 4-year-olds who don’t speak English.

Under the new regulations, school officials must determine whether students speak another language at home and measure how well they speak and understand English. They then must offer those who need it a seat in a bilingual preschool class, where they study basic academic skills in their native language as they learn English.”

Language immersion: making the case for all-day kindergarten

Chiming in on national press coverage of Utah’s Mandarin immersion program, this Provo Herald guest editorial raises an interesting question.

Citing from an article in Time Magazine, Duane Jeffrey, emeritus professor of biology at Brigham Young University, points to research findings “frightening to an old codger” like him:  “The sensitivity for learning languages peaks at about 9 months of life.”

If this is true, why don’t all of Utah’s immersion programs start in kindergarten – or preschool, for that matter?

The answer, I’m sure, is multifaceted but has something to do with the fact that Utah doesn’t fund universal, all-day kindergarten. Could immersion programs be the thing that convinces lawmakers to rethink that policy? I wonder.

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.”

No English spoken here!

Only in New York would you be able to find a Mandarin immersion lego engineering program! Wish they had something like this here.

Use or it, or lose it. It’s not easy to force yourself to speak a language different from the “mother” tongue of those around you. Not even for an American English teacher living in Spain who had best intentions of raising a bilingual son.

A summer, university-based language academy for high school students! A resource to remember for when our kids reach high school age (maybe they’ll add Chinese):
“Shortly after the 165 high school students from around the state of Virginia arrived on Washington and Lee University’s campus last weekend, they made a promise, in writing: no cell phones, no iPods, no iPads, and no English for the next three weeks.
The students are participants in three Virginia Governor’s Language Academies in Spanish, French and German….
One wrinkle to the program is that the students will actually leave with three languages. Each academy is teaching its students an additional foreign language. For instance, students in the Spanish academy are learning Japanese, but they are being taught in Spanish. German students are learning Russian, and French students are learning Arabic.”

News of the day

Two interesting news items I encountered over the past few weeks:

“How China views the world,” according to Time Magazine (you need to subscribe/pay to read it).

Another dispatch on the benefits of being bilingual. If you’ve signed up your kids for immersion, you probably don’t need convincing. Still, this summarizes some of the latest research in an easy-to-digest way.

Bilingual celebrities

“What do Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, and Mila Kunis have in common,” asks Parade Magazine. “They’re all bilingual!”

OK, I usually avoid celebrity “news” stories like the plague. But I couldn’t resist this one. Parade Magazine says:
“Sandra Bullock is fluent in German. Her mother was a German opera singer, and Bullock lived with relatives in Germany and Austria for several years as a child.”

Who knew?

Canada’s immersion graduates grow up and raise bilingual kids

The Globe and Mail offers this fascinating look at the coming of age of Canada’s French immersion program, which took root in the 70s but saw dramatic growth over the past decade. Some education officials surmise they’re seeing the next immersion wave – children of immersion graduates who want to pass bilingualism onto their kids.

Imagine the ripple effect of Utah’s immersion program 30 years from now. Will bilingualism be the new norm? And how will this change cultural customs and our understanding of the world? What new opportunities will be opened to residents of the state?

Highlights from the Globe and Mail:

“A 1990 study of an early wave of French immersion graduates in Saskatchewan found that more than 80 per cent said they wanted their children to follow in their footsteps by pursuing immersion.

“We’re now seeing a generational transition,” Mr. Rothon said. “It hasn’t really been documented yet. Once we start seeing its extent we should start to see it influencing government policy.”

Mr. Rothon said the children of immersion are creating something like a new linguistic category. They go home to environments where one or two parents are capable of speaking French with them and helping with their homework. It’s not the same as living in an easily defined anglophone or francophone environment, yet it still represents a change from earlier generations. By choosing to continue with French immersion into a second generation, these families are saying, “This is part of how we grew up and this is who we are as Canadians,” Mr. Rothon said.”

Measuring the success of Utah’s dual immersion program

It’s a question I hear over and over again from parents: How do I know if my child is excelling academically?

The battery of tests our kids take suggests schools are constantly probing the same question. But do those tests apply to dual immersion students?

Utah parents were promised two things when they enrolled their children in dual immersion: that their kids would become fluent and literate in a second language, and that they would suffer no setbacks in reading, writing, math, science or social studies. 

State officials have developed specialized tools to gauge how much Mandarin, Spanish, French or Portuguese students are acquiring. One of the measures, “summative” assessments of their listening, speaking and writing abilities will be given this spring for the first time to all immersion third and fourth graders. Parents will get results next fall. More on that later…..

But conventional year-end tests show that for several years running, Utah has come through on its second promise that no academic harm would come to immersion students. Data show Utah’s immersion students perform as good as, or better than, their non-immersion peers on state reading and math assessments, said Utah World Languages Specialist Gregg Roberts. 

This suggests students are absorbing some second language, since up until 3rd grade math is predominantly taught in that language, notes Roberts. It also squares with the experience of other states and other countries, including the birthplace of modern immersion, Canada.

According to the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition:
“Immersion students met or exceeded English program students’ performance in mathematics and science, and province-wide assessments in three Canadian provinces found that at grades 6, 8, and 10, respectively, immersion students did as well as or achieved at a significantly higher level than those in the regular program. (Bournot-Trites & Tellowitz, 2002; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2000; Dube & MacFarlane, 1999; New Brunswick Department of Education, 2000; Turnbull, Hart & Lapkin, 2000.)”

How is this possible, you ask? Scientists exploring the benefits of bilingualism offering one explanation – being bilingual boosts your brain, they say. Studies suggest being bilingual enhances cognitive abilities and may even help stave off dementia, reports The New York Times.

Of course, such research is still in its infancy; there is no direct proof that being bilingual makes you smarter. Could it be that kids who enroll in immersion programs tend to be overachievers from upwardly mobile families who start the school year already well ahead of their peers? 

Portland is testing that assumption by comparing year-end scores of students who won the immersion lottery to those who tried enrolling but lost the lottery, said Roberts. A Utah-commissioned study by the Educational Policy Center at the University of Utah pursues the same question from a different angle.

Researchers compared year-end reading and math scores of immersion students at 17 Utah schools to non-immersion students. To make sure they were comparing apples and apples, they weighted students’ scores differently based on a student’s socioeconomic or non-English-speaking status, explained Roberts. They found immersion students on average scored 5 points higher on English Language Arts CRT’s and 4 points higher on math CRT’s. In addition, they were more likely to be reading on grade level and were less likely to be chronically absent than traditional students.

“Keep in mind the immersion kids are also going up against all the gifted and talented programs in the state,” said Roberts, noting that immersion programs accept kids of all abilities.

Now, back to the language assessments. Are you still with me? 

By now most parents have probably seen the Student Proficiency Reports that immersion teachers produce showing whether students are making adequate progress in their world language. Next fall you’ll also receive results from the first round of AAPPL tests.  “Language is a skill, a skill that can be demonstrated and tested,” said Roberts.

Computerized, role-playing assessments developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the AAPPL tests are conversational and interactive. Students sit at a computer wearing special headsets and are prompted to answer questions by a videotaped person speaking Chinese, Spanish, French or Portuguese. Students responses are recorded and sent to ACTFL for scoring.

Here’s a video showing how it works.

Immersion students will take these tests every year starting in the 3rd grade. Testing for the first few years will alternate between measuring interpersonal listening and speaking skills versus their presentational writing skills. In latter years, tests will be added to measure interpretive listening and reading, culminating in 9th grade with the College AP exam. If they pass, students will be able to take college-level courses in high school.  Here’s a spreadsheet that breaks it down into more detail with links for more information.

These tests cost money, and show just how much the state has invested in this program and wants it to succeed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the results!

$300 million scholarship opportunity for studying in China

From the New York Times:

“HONG KONG — The private-equity tycoon Stephen A. Schwarzman, backed by an array of mostly Western blue-chip companies with interests in China, is creating a $300 million scholarship for study in China that he hopes will rival the Rhodes scholarship in prestige and influence….

The Schwarzman Scholars program will pay all expenses for 200 students each year from around the world for a one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The program’s creation underlines the tremendous importance of China and its market to Wall Street financiers and corporate leaders, who have become increasingly anxious as security and economic frictions grow between China and the West,” reports the New York Times.