the Atlantic: dual language immersion a bright spot in American language education

May 22, 2015

Last week, Amelia Friedman, founder of Student Language Exchange, penned an article in The Atlantic on America’s Lacking Language Skills and what it means for “the global war for talent.” Friedman paints a vivid, though somewhat troubling, picture of American language education:

  • Only 7 percent of college students in America are enrolled in a language course.
  • In 2008 almost all high schools in the country—93 percent—offered foreign languages, yet less than 1 percent of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom.
  • One in five jobs are tied to international trade.
  • According to Kirsten Brecht-Baker, the founder of Global Professional Search,  Americans are in the midst of a “global war for talent” and in danger of needing to import human capital because insufficient time or dollars are being invested in language education domestically.

After laying out the numerous difficulties that accompany the implementation of quality language education (funding, teacher shortages, the temptation to pursue the “language du jour”, etc.), Friedman notes that dual language immersion education remains a bright spot:

The Joint National Committee for Languages advocates for integrating language education with subjects ranging from engineering to political science—anything, really. “Languages are not a side dish that’s extra, but it’s a side dish that complements other skills,” Hanson said. “You can use it to augment and fortify other skills that you have, and expand the application of these skills.” But students, especially those in college, are often discouraged from language courses or studying abroad because of stringent requirements in another subject matter.

But perhaps educational institutions can address this challenge by integrating language into their other programs.  One solution cited by advocates is dual-language instruction, in which a variety of subjects are taught in two languages, thereby eliminating the need to hire a separate language instructor. At the elementary level, these programs appear to have immediate impact on kids’ learning. Bill Rivers, one of the country’s most prominent language lobbyists, points to significant evidence that students in dual-language programs outperform their peers in reading and math by fourth grade—regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. And advocates say dual-language programs are cost-effective because they typically don’t require extra materials for the language instruction; a science textbook, for example, would simply be published in the target language.  That means districts buy the same number of materials as they would without the language element. The same goes for the number of teachers needed—though those teachers need to be bilingual as well.

While monolingualism may be today’s normal, we’re encouraged that more and more school administrators, parents and students are embracing dual language immersion education.

We’d encourage you to read the entire article, and let us know what you think in the comments.

May 22, 2015

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