We all should be bilingual | VailDaily.com

We all should be bilingual

Cindy Ramunno

Don’t check my spelling on those, either. I took two years of Spanish in high school and actually learned quite a bit. And I know many Italian words from my late great grandmother Frances – God rest her soul. However, I am still not bilingual. Not even close.

Few Americans are bilingual. But many other countries require kids to learn at least two languages. Why is that?

Shouldn’t we be cutting edge on bilingual education? Different people push for different things. Some don’t want time spent on learning a different language. Some want “second language acquisition” programs and others want two-way bilingual immersion programs.

I personally believe that all Eagle County students should be bilingual in both English and Spanish. Why? It makes them more marketable in the work force. It gives kids a life skill that will forever be treasured. It exposes students to different cultures and history. The bottom line is that it enriches their education.

You may say there’s not enough time in the day to teach kids a different language and have them be fluent in that second language. It’s true that teachers and administrators have their hands full. They are expected to teach the entire academic curriculum, plus character building, specials, etc. However, administrators prioritize all sorts of “extras” for our kids. A second language should be at the top of that list.

Some of the information from the bilingual education Web site says it best. The 21st century demands that schools prepare students for a global society. If you’re successful at doing that, multilingual and multicultural skills will be a necessity.

Every state has experienced an increase in the number of kids coming to school with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Bilingual education in the USA has historically been implemented as a remedial, compensatory program for language minority students to learn English.

But often the more successful bilingual programs in America have maintained the home language of the students as they acquired proficiency in English. Wouldn’t that be awesome for English-speaking kids as well?

Two-way bilingual immersion programs strive to combine the best of bilingual education and immersion education to offer language minority and language majority students the opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate.

Two-way bilingual immersion programs are the only programs to have these explicit goals of biliteracy and bilingualism for all students.

All students, what a concept. The model also clearly shows that bilingualism and biliteracy are feasible goals for all students.

This takes a huge commitment. It’s not like you throw a kid into a six-week Spanish course and crank out a bilingual student. Programs usually take four to six years of bilingual instruction.

As we all know, it works better in the younger grades – upper elementary grades. I remember much of my basic Spanish from a kindergarten pilot program. I also remember some of my parents’ friends throwing a huge fit about this 1974-75 pilot program.

My parents were thrilled with it, and my sister and I loved it. Among the parental concerns: “My kids are struggling learning to read and write in English; I don’t want them learning Spanish.” That’s fine except that our precious teachers are already teaching lots of extracurricular stuff. Bilingual education just needs to be thrown in the mix.

The reason I’m pushing Spanish and not Italian, German, Japanese or whatever is because some 33 percent of our population in Eagle County is Hispanic. I don’t know what the percentage of that population is Spanish-speaking. However, I do know that if you know English AND Spanish, you’ll fair well communicating in America and many other countries. If you know Spanish, there’s a good chance you’ll understand the Italian language, as well.

It’s simple. In Eagle County, Spanish-speaking kids should learn English and English-speaking kids should learn Spanish. The enrichment would last beyond a lifetime.

Cindy Ramunno of Eagle writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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