jetsetgreen

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Seriously?

I was excited when I heard that my local elementary school would be offering a secondary language immersion option. I was entirely annoyed when I found out it would be French.

Seriously? French?

Look, learning a second language does improve primary language, as well as Math and other subjects. However, the whole point in language immersion is not just to acquire a proficiency in a language but to become fluent in that language. That is why French is a not a good candidate for language immersion in the United States. Why? Because French has decreasing relevancy.

French used to be one of the major languages of international business and diplomacy, but is no longer. Sure, French is still one of the three languages that the International Olympic Committee uses, but the IOC is hardly the yardstick to use. Over the past 50 years, French has become supplanted by English as the major international business language. One could even make the argument that Mandarin or Arabic are far more important if you want your child to be fluent in something that has and will have international importance.

France has an inverted population triangle; that means that fewer people speak French every year, in France. France is making itself irrelevant by not producing enough people to even replace its own population. The major French-speaking colonies, Algeria, Niger, Congo, even the Côte d'Ivoire aren’t exactly hotbeds of international relevance, either (yellow cake issues not withstanding.) In fact, in many of those former colonies, French is being replaced by a re-emergence of native languages.

It makes absolutely no sense in any logical fashion to teach French by immersion in our local public schools. If we lived in Canada it would be different. But we don’t. A friend of mine argues that even Portuguese would be a better option.

In fact, language immersion is questionably effective for mere fluency, particularly because the student’s home must also reinforce the school-based acquisition. I would hazard that the vast majority of the elementary school’s families have absolutely no way to reinforce native French. There is no major local native French presence, my sweet and adorable friend Laurence being the most delightful exception.

I’m guessing that the immersion program is simply to appeal to the pretension of some parents who want to be able to say that their child is learning French. And let’s be clear, people should learn French, but not at the elementary level when the most valuable time to internalizing a second or third language presents itself.

Clearly, Spanish is the most relevant option. The state’s Spanish-speaking population is on the rise (currently at about 10%,) and the United States is about the third-largest Spanish speaking country in the world (depending on which measurement you use.) 34 million people speak primarily Spanish in their homes, the largest amount of any secondary U.S. language (and as a percent, more than French, Hawaiian, and all the Native American languages, combined.) In the next 30 years, the Spanish-speaking population is expected to represent 30% of the population (not to mention that the population triangle of the U.S. would be in serious trouble if it weren’t for Hispanic birth rates.)

But no.

We’re not going to learn Spanish; it’s the language of the Enlightenment for our kids.

Too bad the Enlightenment was three hundred years ago.

39 comments:

Fig said...

I think this would make a GREAT letter to the editor for your local pape.

(At the very least, should be sent to the school.)

Geo said...

I second Fig's remark, underscoring local paper.

Sue said...

What a waste.

Jane @ What About Mom? said...

I disagree(shocking, I know). I feel like "immersion" programs, the way we do them in the states, just really aren't that effective at the elementary school level anyway.

I think it's more a away to get kids interested and exposed to another language and culture, and if it's a language and culture that will be "fun" for the kids, then it will lead to further study of it or another language later.

Just like reading aloud to pre-readers is more important than getting them to memorize sight words or do the phonetics-crap. Get them to LIKE it, and then when they have the opportunity, or are ready, they'll be much more likely to take off.

(Hey, I took French at Spanish Fork High School. Completely useless, yes, but fun and I enjoyed. Took French and Hebrew at BYU later, then learned some Japanese and Arabic while in country.). Still have no Spanish.

153351 said...

Et penser nous vous avons donné notre liberté de dame. Pour que ? Pour cela ? Je ne pense pas ainsi.

Mrs. Organic said...

Jane has a point and French does help you to understand other latin based languages. But, still it's mostly for kicks and not very practical.

Arabic and Mandarin immersion would be awesome, I think I'd go back to Elementary school for that. As far as the language that makes the most sense for our kids to learn - Spanish - it's probably too controversial.

Some parents would see it as a political statement ie, "What is this, Mexico?" and "They should be learning English, not forcing our kids to learn Spanish"

I don't support these views at all, but they're out there.

redlaw said...

rather than worry over what language is being taught, i'd just be excited that there's an immersion program at all. but that's just me and i am a francophone....

Kacy said...

Listen Carina, Don't you remember how strongly Madonna felt about Lourdes doing a French immersion program?

Shawn said...

Well--- I love French just because its a beautiful language---I know that it isn't a reason to have it in elementary schools, but I took Spanish for 4 years growing up----lived in El Paso, and only use it when I go to Mexico---or when I lived in LA. There you have to read more Spanish signs than English....it seems anyway.

I think that all languages are helpful, as it just helps to expand their minds and be more open to other languages down the road.

I think that I am rambling now and will stop.

La Yen said...

WeeWee.

Sister Pottymouth said...

Si si.

kiki said...

Vive la vida!

Justine said...

yes, I had the same exact thought when that paper came home from school. French? Seriously? Spanish, sure. Chinese even! But French? We're not going to do it. Are you?

Melanie J said...

I grew up learning French, but I'm from Louisiana and even though people in my family spoke it natively, I STILL wish I would have learned Spanish.

Lisa said...

I couldn't disagree with you more. First, like Kacy mentioned, there's Madonna.

Second, this is a wonderful opportunity for the American public school system to advance and get with the international program. Our children need to be bi and trilingual like the rest of the world. They've needed to for decades and this is a step in the right direction. It's not a matter of elitism among parents--it's about educating in a meaningful way.

You are ignoring the fact that anyone's second language is the most difficult to learn. With this particular program, the children will be fluent by sixth grade and ready and encouraged to pick up a third language in the 9th grade. (Hello: Spanish would be ideal to learn then, as a romance language and easy to pick up at this time)

You're also disregarding the intellectual benefits language development offers. These immersion students score higher on SAT's, are better versed in world communities, arts, and politics. They see beyond their American community. I have the research links if you want to look at them.

I love you. I'm so glad you're passionate about this like I am.

Bek said...

It must be a location thing.

In our area we have Spanish and Mandarin immersion public schools and French, German and Arabic charter immersion schools. They are on the affordable side. I also come from a family that is fluent in French (on the in law side.... it was very helpful for my FIL's years in Africa as well as in Europe..).

While I agree that Spanish is the most relevant language now in the US(and my kids are spoken to only in Spanish by our nanny and the three little ones understand most of what she says, but continue to speak to HER in English), any additional language (if it is getting funded and has parents excited about it) is a good thing for a school system. At the least, it can't hurt. Right?

My kids go to English school and I choose to teach them Spanish b/c I felt it would be the most useful for their childhood, but I hope they go on to learn French in their later years.

BTW..I am fluent in several signed languages and USED to be fluent in Russian--but now I would say that I have conversational Russian... I have used my extra languages (as random as they are) more than I ever thought I would...

You are a good one Carina. I love a woman with passion.

Azúcar said...

Oh, I'm with you Lisa, learning a second or third language is imperative. I grew up speaking three languages, and just look how many opinions I have!

I think this really long blog is a really long way of saying...

*whine* WHY ISN'T IT SPANISH? *whine*


And yes, I'm selfish because YES, I could reinforce Spanish at home (because the kids already have a head start.)

Azúcar said...

But whatever Madonna Louise does is an extremely compelling argument.

Cafe Johnsonia said...

Nope. Spanish is a much better choice. Especially if you are only going to learn one other language. And I'm saying this because learning Spanish (a bit, most of which I don't recall) has helped me throughout my entire adult life. And it's helped me decipher other foreign languages. And helped me learn to speak a bit of Portuguese. And by that I mean I can understand what's going on in conversation, but I don't join in. And I like using "and" to begin sentences.

Fig said...

You're not whining. Spanish is the most practical choice. But. We should probably take what we can get.

ClistyB said...

it probably had less to do with whether or not French was relevant in the area, and more to do with the fact that there was some French teacher willing to do a full immersion class.

smart mama said...

amen- I once questioned a local charter shcool on this exact point-the answer i got "we chose french becasue there are so many kids that already speak spanish in their homes it would create unfair advantage? none of the children in the school speak french in their homes" I laughed because the act of teaching them another language took precedence over teaching them language they could actually use. ahh education... If you want to simply teacha nother lang for another language sake and refuse spanish go for dead latin at least it cna help with a variety of things later on or least let you spend class periods dressig up in togas and watching ben hur

gurrbonzo said...

TOTALLY DISAGREE.

I was in french immersion for elementary school. I am a freaking genius. Therefore, french immersion equals genius.

Okay, okay, we were in Canada, so it was little more relevant, but still, I'd be jumping up and down for ANY immersion program. Look! Utahns acknowledging that there are people in the world from places other than Idaho and Mexico!

Just kidding. Kind of. But seriously, I agree with Lisa...it gets kids interested in other languages and come on, French, Spanish and Portuguese are the same anyway.

Basically, this is awesome. It's like a gateway drug, but to romance languages instead of heroin. Deep, huh? See? LOOK HOW ARTICULATE FRENCH IMMERSION MADE ME.

Lisa said...

"French is the gateway drug to romance languages" and the ultimate hard-core (use) drug: Spanish. Why couldn't I have thought about that!?

Carina, I agree: Spanish, more useful to most Americans and Madonna knows more than your average bear because she's wealthy and has sculpted arms. Arms that could kill a bear.

In studying this particular Federal/State Funding and proposal, it clearly stated that in the beginning stages (yeah Provo School District for jumping on this!) each District can only have one school in each offered language: Spanish, Chinese, French, and Japanese. I'm really confident it will expand and so glad our neighborhood school principal saw the benefits and grabbed it up.

Azúcar said...

.

















Madonna scares me.

Azúcar said...

MADGE, YOU ARE THE BEST, DON'T EVER CHANGE!

Christian F said...

Timpanogas has a Spanish immersion program if you are really interested in that. I'm sort of a language snob -- I started studying French in elementary school and that got me really excited about foreign languages. I stuck with French through the 300 level in college but studied German and Latin as well. I think picking up a second language, ANY second language, is great and I wouldn't be picky about what it is.

Ultimately, I learned Spanish on my mission and now I can't speak French without throwing in a couple Spanish words here and there. So I get it that Spanish is totally relevant and useful but I think that any second language is really great and cool.

soybeanlover said...

I'm split. Spanish would be the best for anyone living in the US, but take what you can get in Provo.

It's kind of refreshing to see a language that isn't the popular one being picked up though. I know here all other languages get neglected for English...it's kind of how I felt about Spanish in high school. I was always afraid my German was going to get cut, so it is nice to see a school supporting something other than Spanish. Now I'm wishing I took some Spanish though, since we have a bunch of Peruvian families moving into the ward.

Dang it pride!

wendysue said...

But Carina. . .Alex and Simon are teaching their brilliant children French. . .are you saying they're wrong????? I mean they even have a kid named Francois.

Dan said...

One correction. While there is a re-emergence of tribal languages in french-africa they are by no means replacing french as the common language. Consider that Congo has like 5 tribal languages as it is. All of those people still speak french because they can't get along elsewhere without it.

There is a similar revival in France to bring back the regional languages like Breton using immersion schools and its been pretty successful.

I think the only reason French was chosen is because its the least politically charged. Teaching kids Mandarin or Arabic would be like teaching kids German during WW2 and there is far too much ethnophobia to teach kids spanish. I agree that they would be much more useful but probably politically difficult.

Azúcar said...

Ah, but there is already a school teaching Mandarin in the district, and another teaching Spanish.

Lisa's response was the most clarifying--only one language immersion program per district. So, since Spanish was already taken, French it is for my neighborhood school. Laissez les bons temps rouler!


(But that doesn't mean I don't wish it was Spanish.)

Brian Barker said...

As far as learning another language, is concerned, I wish to put in a word for the global language, Esperanto.

Although Esperanto is a living language, it helps language learning as well.

Five British schools have introduced Esperanto in order to test its propaedeutic values. The pilot project is being monitored by the University of Manchester and the initial encouraging results can be seen at http://www.springboard2languages.org/Summary%20of%20evaluation,%20S2L%20Phase%201.pdf
You might also like to see http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670

Confirmation can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

Olivia said...

I think language immersion programs are AWESOME, and super effective if they are reinforced at home, but FRENCH? Gimme a break. I love french, but even i can see how ridiculous that is. It's like doing a program in Pig Latin or Sumerian. It's also effing RACIST. Spanish, definitely. Mandarin Chinese, sure. But French, ca c'est ridicule!

Shelby Lou said...

french??? are you kidding me???

Emily said...

I'm just interested that your neighborhood school is the same as Lisa's. Isn't there a closer one to you? Also, the Steve and Bobbie faction might get their kids into the Chinese program at our school. We'd love to have you, too. Although, obviously, you won't be reinforcing at home. (But guess what, homework with which the parents have to be intimately involved stinks.)

liz said...

i love that you took this much time to think about it and write about this. it's completely true and doesn't make any sense to choose French. good thing some moms are paying attention. I'd have been like 'oooo what a pretty language choice. Let's have French Fries with dinner. And watch Amelie after the kids go to bed.'

Amy said...

totally agree with what lisa said. could've cut and pasted that baby and call it mine. but that would be plagiarism. anyway, i'm kind of sick of spanish being shoved down our throats on every bloody kids tv show and here in fl. and would love something different.

dude, if i lived there, i would totally sign my kids up. most people have to pay BIG money for that.

esodhiambo said...

As a second-language acquisition professional, I agree with Azucar 100%. Another great aspect to having Spanish would be the possibility of a dual-immersion program wherein half the kids start out Spanish speaking and half English--they learn so much from each other. Never happening with French.

Call me a hater, but I actually think the global irrelevance of French could turn kids OFF language learning--they'll notice all the time and effort they put into becoming fluent in a totally useless language by the time they are 10 (heck, my 4-year-old already knows Spanish and Chinese are the languages of the future) and may be jaded about pouring themselves into another language.

Oh well--French is better than no options. It really troubles me to hear about the "politics" and "racism" that may color people's reaction to Spanish--that is why I cannot live in UT.

doshimaitri said...

Learning a language can be a really inspirational thing to do – not only does learning new skills give you a sense of enthusiasm and achievement, it can also open new doors and broaden your horizons.
Hence foreign language school is the best way to learn the languages.