How bilingual education changes lives

1923: The right to let children learn a foreign language

Một kỷ niệm yêu quý khi là giáo viên song ngữ

My favorite memory as a bilingual teacher

Bilingual education for me has been a validation of my language, culture and identity that I did not receive as a child of public education. I grew up in a time when English was the sole focus of language acquisition. For my students, our school system’s Vietnamese dual-language program opens the door of access for their present and future. Most of the students have been with the program since kindergarten; those now in high school have achieved notable achievements that are recognized at the state level and can be put on resumes for work or higher education. A more personal triumph for me is seeing how dual-language education affects students’ present lives. The most impactful memory I carry is the deep gratitude of a grandmother once shared at an end-of-year celebration. She thanked me for giving her 7-year-old grandson the ability to communicate with her. It was, she said, the first time that she was able to get to know her grandson.

Tu Dinh is a language learning specialist at the district office of Highline Public Schools in Washington state. He spent five years at White Center Heights Elementary School as the first-grade Vietnamese dual-language teacher and two years as a Vietnamese instructional coach and dual-language facilitator.

Les programs d’immersion linguistique enseignent bien plus qu’une autre langue

Language immersion programs teach much more than other languages

During my senior year at Spelman College, I applied to become a Peace Corps volunteer. Soon after graduation, I boarded a plane with 35 others for training in Senegal. Most of us only spoke English and had not previously traveled outside the United States. Our training focuses on intercultural education, adjusting to different living conditions — and intensive language immersion.

After six weeks, I began my assignment as a high school English teacher in a village in Guinea. Although Guineans speak many languages, French is the national language. My French had to be strong enough to work and survive — sink or swim.

Over my two years in Guinea, I swam and survived. I learned that the ability to communicate in French and other languages ​​enabled me to make genuine connections with my students, colleagues and neighbors. I witnessed my students’ English acquisition make a similar impact. I became a firm believer in the importance of language immersion as a way to better understand others.

After a decade-long career in international development and education policy, I began working for the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, a 25-year-old language immersion elementary school in Washington (which was founded by my mother and named after my grandmother). It was the first charter school in DC to offer Spanish and French immersion. This year I celebrate 20 years of working at the school and 10 years as the head of school. I have seen hundreds of children enter prekindergarten and graduate from the fifth grade with the ability to speak, learn, read, write and communicate in two or more languages.

Pre-pandemic, as a culminating event for their language immersion studies, our graduating students would travel to Panama or Martinique for a week-long international study tour. During their travels, not only would they explore a new country and connect with local students, they also participated in radio interviews in French and presidential palace tours in Spanish. The experience of traveling abroad and communicating in French or Spanish has changed the trajectory of many students’ lives. This school year, we look forward to completing our first international study tour since the pandemic.

Erika Bryant is executive director of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.

Apoyemos a todos los niños multilingües a mantener su lengua materna

Let’s support all multilingual children in keeping their home language

My family immigrated to California from Mexico in 1992 when I was 3 years old. My parents immediately enrolled me in Head Start, where I was lucky to have access to bilingual education, which supported and used my home language (Spanish) to help me develop proficiency and literacy in English. I was enrolled in bilingual classes until second grade, and I credit this experience as the reason I am bilingual and biliterate today. My mom still likes to talk about how I read 500 books in kindergarten in both languages. Bilingual education was crucial to my development and enabled me to communicate with and stay connected to my family both in Mexico and California. In 1998, California eliminated bilingual education, which means that — until 2016 when it was reinstated — generations after I were denied the opportunity to maintain their home language.

Leslie Villegas is a senior policy analyst at New America, where she focuses on improving equity for English learners in pre-K-to-12 education.


We are Wampanoag

In our community, the bilingual education that our Weetumuw School students receive is meaningful on a much larger scale. Wôpanâak, the language spoken by the Indigenous people of eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, was a sleeping language for generations, and it is only in the past couple of decades that it has begun to come back to us.

Weetumuw is an independent school founded in 2016 that serves roughly 25 students in Mashpee, Mass. Today, with dedication from teachers, students and their families, as well as linguists who contribute to the school’s language content, we are able to see Wôpanâak reemerge as a language of children. And it is children who give life to the language. It is the Wampanoag children who will allow Wôpanâak to thrive as they learn and grow.

With their language learning comes cultural understanding, and with both of these things providing a firm foundation from a young age, we are creating a generation of Wampanoag children who have a steadfast and invaluable sense of pride in their identity.

Nitana Hicks Greendeer is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. She is the head of the Weetumuw School as well as the mother of five current and former Weetumuw students.

El renacimiento también existe en español

The Renaissance exists in Spanish too

My mom grew up in Mexico, my dad in the United States, and this meant I had access to both English and Spanish from childhood. My formal study of Spanish didn’t start until high school, when I learned for the first time to read and write in Spanish and acquired the vocabulary to better get to know some of my family. While I knew I loved Shakespeare early in life, I had no exposure to the Renaissance writers I taught today until I learned about them in college: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, María de Zayas. Teaching and learning Spanish connects me to the rich cultural and political history of Spanish in the United States, Latin America and Spain, past and present. The most gratifying part of my job is affirming the home languages ​​of my students and advocating for early access to multilingualism and language learning. This means teaching my undergraduates about the value of their language stories, and partnering with local K-12 schools to recognize these biliteracies and strengthen second-language learning for all students.

Margaret Boyle is director of Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx studies and associate professor of Romance Languages ​​and Literatures at Bowdoin College. She directs the Multilingual Mainers program for early elementary students and educators.

三者三様-日本語を学ぶ意義とは ~ 公立学校の三人の日本語教師が語る

One school system. Three teachers. Many reasons to study Japanese.

Bilingual education is my passion and life work. In my school’s Japanese immersion program, 90 percent of students’ first language is English, which means they experience what it feels like to be a language minority at a young age. Through struggles and frustration in communicating in another language, they develop empathy for speakers of languages ​​other than English, greater resilience and a growth mindset. They are supportive of each other and also understand when I stumble with English. Bilingual education fosters sensitivity to other people’s needs along with language proficiency and cultural competency, and I believe it has a significant impact on creating a caring society.

Noriko Otsuka is a Japanese immersion teacher at Fox Mill Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va.

I began taking Japanese in middle school. Learning the language required me to see beyond the Japanese pop culture I was familiar with and provided opportunities to meet new people and hear new perspectives. I decided that one of the most valuable skills we can learn is how to communicate with more people through languages. Now, as a teacher, I get to see my students learn to appreciate differences and similarities between cultures, and to reserve judgment about practices different from their own. Language learning has expanded my world, and the reason I teach is to pass that opportunity on to my students.

Cynthia Rinehart is a Japanese immersion teacher at Great Falls Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va.

My journey to becoming bilingual started with my daily English lessons in kindergarten in Japan. My father taught Chinese at Japanese colleges, and many international students and professors visited us at our home — giving me the opportunity to try my English. I was timid at first, but the excitement I felt when they understood me was still a precious memory. Learning English taught me important life skills. Communicating in another language is difficult. It requires patience, perseverance and creativity. If one way to express yourself is not effective enough, then you have to try again. As a Japanese immersion teacher, I wish my students a rewarding journey as they become lifelong language learners.

Lili Kennington is a Japanese immersion teacher at Great Falls Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va.