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Interest in Bilingual Education Rises in US

Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Los Angeles is an unconventional school. Subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. That ultimately puts these students ahead of their peers in traditional English-only schools, said Principal Alfredo Ortiz.

“The students at the beginning, at the initial stages, might not be ready," he said. "However, as they get into third, fourth and fifth grade, the scores began to change, where our students in the dual-language program are excelling and, in fact, outperforming our students in the English-only program."

With a 26-year track record, this dual-language immersion program at Grand View is the oldest of its kind in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Other language-immersion schools have emerged within the district, including a Mandarin program at Broadway Elementary. The school's principal, Susan Wang, said the programs are growing.

“The Mandarin-immersion program grew four classes per year and slowly filled up the school, to the point that we really need to think about another space to grow the program,” she said.

Over the last 10 years, the number of bilingual programs within the district has quadrupled, according to school board member Steve Zimmer.

“With a global economy and with global marketplaces, folks understand, parents understand, that multiliteracy is almost as important as literacy itself — almost as important as any other baseline academic marker," he said. "That is what has changed."

This trend is not limited to Los Angeles. The organizer of a recent Los Angeles bilingual education fair also held an event in New York City last year. The response for both events has been good.

In addition to an awareness of what is needed in a global economy, there has been a shift in thinking among immigrants, said fair organizer Emmanuel Saint-Martin of the magazine French Morning.

“A lot of the immigrants of today have a different view than their parents had," Saint-Martin said. "Their parents, a few decades ago, would rather have their kids speak only English. They were really obsessed with the idea of integrating. Now they know, those parents, that you can integrate in the country, speak perfect English, and keep your heritage language.”

That is how Xavier Lannes is raising his children. “I am French, my wife is Mexican, and we are living in the U.S. so my kids speak three languages. They speak French, Spanish and English,” he said.

Education researchers have found speaking more than one language can enhance cognitive abilities. Bilingual and multilingual speakers process information more efficiently, and some studies even find that speaking more than one language can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

That is why some nonimmigrant American parents are exposing their children to another language as early as preschool, said Angelika Putintseva of the WorldSpeak School, a language-immersion school in Los Angeles.

“We are on the frontier of multilingual education, so it is not only one language, one second language that the child is learning with us," she said. "We are teaching second, third, fourth, and some children speak five languages.“

The Los Angeles public school system expects its language-immersion program to continue to grow. The ultimate goal, many educators said, is to offer the programs from hindergarten through the 12th grade, so graduates are truly citizens of the world.