Language Classes Popular in America's Public Schools

As a nation of immigrants, American society is a polyglot. The diversity of spoken languages can be heard clearly in the nation's schools. Students often come from different national and cultural backgrounds. Learning a new language is a way of bridging those differences. Kent Gardens Elementary School, located in the northern Virginia suburbs outside Washington, D.C., is one of hundreds of American public schools now offering special foreign-language training programs. Mohamed Elshinnawi has a report.

More than 900 young students arrive at Kent Gardens Elementary every morning to take part in a system-wide language training program known as partial immersion. Its aim is to help students become fluent in a foreign language of their choice. In this particular school, French is the language being offered.

"Half of the day is spent with a French immersion teacher, where they learn math and science in French and the other part of the day is spent with the English teacher where they are taught social studies and language arts in English," says Annie Dwyer, a 5th grade French teacher.

Students not only receive instruction in the French language but are also exposed to the cultures of French-speaking countries. They interact with teacher-interns from France. Some students host the French interns in their homes, establishing personal cultural links.

Students at Kent Gardens Elementary come from many different cultural backgrounds, and they give many different reasons for wanting to be fluent in a foreign language.

"I am actually Muslim," says Rosa Ahmat, "so my parents want me to learn about other cultures and people from other places."

Anwar Mendes says he expects to travel a lot in the future. "So I will have a pretty good chance of meeting a person that speaks French."

"It will be very hard to get a good job if you do not know the other languages," says Neha Rana.

Many educators support that belief. They say immersing young students in foreign language study for at least half of their school day gives them the mult-lingual skills they'll need to succeed in an increasingly global economy.

There are other benefits as well. "It expands the mind of the child and also gives them a greater cultural awareness of other cultures and makes them more tolerant of others' differences," says 6th grade French teacher Christine Bedoret.

Some critics of immersion programs believe that spending half the school day learning in a foreign language could negatively impact students' fluency in English. Richard Gordon, a 6-grade English and social studies teacher, disagrees. "One thing I noticed when I teach my students coming from the foreign language program is that they are very oral, they are very vocal, and they can express themselves very well in my English classes."

But French teachers like Francoise Brottet admits there are challenges involved in the immersion program. "Since they do not understand everything (we say), we have to find creative and different ways to teach them."

Young students have their own challenges. "It can be a bit confusing at times, because you learn the terms in French and sometimes some tests and homework you get are written in English," says 6th grader Kimia Zadegan.

Over the past decade, hundreds of American public schools have begun offering partial immersion programs to teach students Latin, Spanish, German, Japanese and many other languages.

Dr. Robyn Hooker, Kent Gardens' Principal, says that many of the students at the school are already multi-lingual, as well as multi-cultural, when they enroll. "Many of the children in our school, because it is an international school, come to us speaking perhaps two or three and in some instances four languages, so it becomes a part of our responsibility to prepare children for global society — and that always includes the languages."

Hooker believes the training students are receiving at Kent Gardens — and in similar language immersion schools across the country — will help them to communicate more effectively not just in their own American polyglot, but in the 21st century's increasingly global village.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs