Language Immersion Programs: Utah Out Front?

It’s OK Utah. We are happy to have you taking massive action with their language immersion programs. Effectively jumping on the hottest trend in bilingual education. It’s important and effects us all.
Language Immersion Programs going full-speed ahead in Utah.

Educators are now looking to rapidly expand dual-language programs and language immersion programs due to the decline in outcry against bilingual education.

Language immersion programs are an education technique that promotes the development of bilingual children through teaching only in the minority language while at school. Think of One Parent One Language… but with only one parent; the teacher(s).

Utah has embraced the idea with an unlikely zeal, despite being the state which routinely ranks last in the nation on education spending, according to United States Census figures. To make it even more interesting, Utah passed an “English Only” law in 2000. They have since changed their minds.

The English-only law, which was passed in Utah in 2000, allows exemptions only for issues of public health and safety, court proceedings, education and tourism.
The Republicans in Salt Lake City, seeing the language immersion programs as a catalyst for Utah to become a bigger player in the world economy, have promised millions of dollars to the program. The popularity of these programs continues to drive the demand.

About four years ago language immersion programs began in Utah, however have really gained popularity recently. 14,000 students are currently enrolled with options in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin; German and Arabic are next on the docket. These programs start in first grade and go through middle school. Successful students then can study college courses in language throughout high school.

20,000 students are already enrolled for next year; nothing short of amazing. That constitutes a 43% increase in overall numbers year over year. In business, that is something to get pretty excited about.This really speaks to the general public starting to realize the benefits of being bilingual.

Language Immersion Programs continue showing up all over the country and are growing equally fast in metropolitan areas around the world. Even in the upper-Midwest, where I am from, the programs are catching on. I have family members who have enrolled their children in these programs in cities like Minneapolis.

Whether we like it or not (we do!), globalization is taking over. China is becoming a powerhouse in the world and the Middle-East is affecting our daily lives more and more; everything from oil to cultural issues and wars. If we want the children of today to compete in this global economy, we need to be encouraging global citizenship and raising bilingual children.

I’m excited to see where all of this goes. Hopefully language immersion programs aren’t just the new fad, and are here to stay. Outside of the many benefits of being bilingual, and this is NOT a comprehensive list, knowing another language is very personally rewarding. I’ll leave you with a quote from Mr. Nelson Mandela:

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Global English: Take the Mystery Out of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

The English language has become a commodity throughout the world, yet there is a shroud around the manner in which it can be or should be taught and who can teach it. What is not widely known is that nearly anyone with a passion for helping people can teach English on some level provided he or she knows English functionally, and note that I did not say perfectly or expertly.

The Mystery is a pack of myths and misunderstandings.

Several myths and misunderstandings about TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) include that in order to teach, a person claiming to be a teacher must be an expert in the language, have thorough knowledge of grammar, and have a specific degree that proclaims his or her proficiency and knowledge. Those things are absolutely not true.

Most speakers of English are not experts in the language, yet they have a working adeptness that allows them to communicate effectively, and so they make great teachers. They have what English language learners need and want. Few native speakers of English could pass a thorough grammar test, but they know when the grammar is being used effectively and they know enough about how the language works to teach it to others. They have what English language learners need and want. English is being taught throughout the world by people who do not have degrees in education, language, or TESOL; nevertheless, people are learning English from them. Some students are impressed by degrees, and some teaching institutions do requires specific degrees, though many do not. Simply having a degree or looking like you can teach English (whatever they means) does not make a person an effective teacher. Yet there are many individuals who have a knack for teaching and especially for helping others to acquire language. They have what English language learners need and want.

What else do English language learners need and want and do you have it?

Consider who the learners of English are and you can figure out want they need and want; then you can surmise if you have it. Many of them need to learn English because they’ve landed in an English-speaking location and they need the language to work and/or to be a part of the community. Or they are in other countries where they need to communicate with the English-speaking world for various reasons. They are often people with intelligence, motivation and dignity, and they want to be seen as such despite their limitations with English. Without a doubt they are people who for one reason or another need to learn English so that they can begin to use it. Then, they want to gain more English and use it even more effectively so that others do not cut them off, put them down, embarrass them, or treat them as second class. They want to engage in productive work and to not be held back due to limited communication skills, and they want to be a part of the society in which they live and raise their families.

English language learners especially need a teacher who is understanding and compassionate. Language has often become an issue of struggle and embarrassment for them. They struggle to understand English and to make themselves understood. They are often embarrassed when people react to their accents or when people simply cannot understand them because of accents. They want respect for their humanness, their intelligence, and all of their other fine attributes. They want a teacher who sees them as human and not as the “other.”

They need a teacher who is practical about grammar and who knows how the English language works most effectively. Some teachers become so caught up in their own ostensible knowledge of grammar rules that they cannot begin to convey true language meaning to students. They actually frustrate students by trying to explain the language. English language learners already have high anxiety about the language and they need a teacher who does not increase that anxiety. They need a teacher who views human communication as being far more important than detailed explanations of grammar rules, especially those rules that seem to have more exceptions than the rules imply. English language learners want a teacher who shows them how to use language patterns in real-life situations.

Degrees are often impressive and it doesn’t hurt to have a solid education, yet it is essential to realize that it is not about degrees-it is more about how the English language learner learns. We all need to continuously improve our skills so that we can help English language learners more efficiently, and we need to add professional development to our resumes so that we create more teaching opportunities for ourselves. But, we must admit that for language learning to take place, the ingredients must include a person who needs English and an understanding, compassionate, practical person who is willing and anxious to teach it. So, now you can answer the question: Do you have what English language learners need and want?

Sarah Anne Shope, PhD, is the founder and instructor of the Global

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