Foreign Language Elementary Education, Say What?

As you know, I am working with the local public school district on an application for the Chinese Guest Teacher Program. Although the teacher is partially subsidized, we will have to do substantial fundraising as well as locating a family to host this person in their home. I know it is completely feasible but it is still a lot of work and sometimes I wonder why I am doing this. The district hasn’t made a long term commitment to offering foreign language instruction in the school. The discussions about the planning of such a program and funding it through the regular school budget (which will take a couple of years) are about FL instruction but the powers-that-be completely hedge about whether or not they would even support Chinese as one of the languages offered. If I had to guess, I would say that there is a motivation to chose Spanish even though the research shows that kids who study more distant languages in elementary school do better at acquiring Spanish and French when they start it in middle school the way it is currently offered (You didn’t help me here, Kristoff. Next time do a bit more research into language education before you make claims about order of acquisition. You could start here). In other words, I can work really hard on this but not really accomplish what I set out to do. I have written a grant proposal which can be cut and paste widely, with “Chinese” replaced by “Spanish” but, at this point, that is all I have accomplished.

Of course, I can’t really complain unless I am willing to get involved in the discussions with the school board, etc, about all of this and, naturally, this is what I will be doing. This is what I’d like to see:

A foreign language elementary school (FLES) program model beginning in kindergarten in which 10-20% of class time, approximately 30 minutes daily, is spent on language learning and additional curricular material connects the language to other subjects, incorporates cultural activities, provides links to the broader Montpelier and school community, and offers opportunities for the students to use the language outside of the classroom through the internet, field trips and encounters with native speakers. Since there are typically 4-5 classrooms in each grade, I would recommend that 2-3 languages be taught – Chinese, Arabic, Hindi (chosen because they are “target languages” but also because they offer different writing systems, etc) with all the students in one classroom studying the same language). In 7th grade, students would select an additional language of the offerings at the middle and high school level. Language teachers would be integrated into teaching teams and cover a few grades. The school would seek to hire bilingual teachers as well as support summer language study at the Middlebury Language Schools for all teachers.

I know I’m just another parent but this is what I want for my kids and I don’t see why I should have to move a major city to get it. Would other Montpelier parents really fight having bi-lingual or even tri-lingual children? Would they really hem and haw about them learning Chinese before they learn French?

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