Students bypass original language Youngest use Spanish or French all day
The Cincinnati Enquirer, November 30, 2002
By Jennifer Mrozowski
Isabel Aranda-Hopp stood before her kindergarten class and tested their math
"Cuantos ninos hay?"
The class looked around and began to count the number of boys: "Uno, dos, tres,
cuatro, cinco, seis, siete."
The class then counted off the number of ninas (girls), and how many students
there were in all. They followed the counting Wednesday with practicing
sentences from the board and then singing songs - all in Spanish.
The 5- and 6-year-olds - half of whom knew no Spanish at the beginning of the
school year in August - take their math,
reading, science and social studies classes entirely in the foreign language.
They're enrolled in Cincinnati Public Schools' new French and Spanish school in
Roselawn, the only public school in
Greater Cincinnati where preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students are
immersed in a foreign language for an
entire school day. They don't have classes in English until second grade - and
then just for part of the day.
There are fewer than 300 public schools nationwide that offer full-immersion
programs (students take all their classes in a
foreign language) or partial-immersion programs (students take some of their
classes in a foreign language), said Nancy
Rhodes, director of language education at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for
Three months into the school year, CPS teachers say their students are picking
up Spanish and French faster than ever,
without sacrificing other subjects.
"It's incredible. Last year, students would be able to read little sentences (in
Spanish) at the end of second quarter," said
first-grade teacher Maria Victoria Richter. She came from Eastern Hills
Elementary where students learned in Spanish for just half the day. "Now,
they're reading whole stories and they tell me stories."
That's not all. Ms. Richter said her students now learn several Spanish songs a
week, instead of a song a month. They also also practicing writing full
sentences, whereas last year at this time, her class had been writing just a few
words in Spanish.
Teachers say students pick up the language quickly when they have little
opportunity to revert back to English. To help them learn, the teachers use
hands-on experiences and lots of visual activities.
Launched this fall in the former Crest Hills school building, the Academy for
Multilingual Immersion Studies combines the
language programs that were offered at the former Heinold and Eastern Hills
elementary schools. The new school has
increased the amount of time students are taught in a foreign language,
particularly in early grades, with the intention of
having students become fluent in a second language.
Laurencio Pena, the school's principal, said the school curriculum is designed
to have students attain success in foreign language and other academic subjects,
as well as teach them about ethnic diversity and other cultures while helping
them enhance skills so they can function in an international society.
In most schools' language programs, children take a foreign language for just
one period a day and often have trouble attaining fluency.
But as the economy grows more global, interest and participation in language
immersion programs has increased, according to Craig N. Packard, user services
coordinator for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. Language
acquisition gained even greater importance after the terrorist attacks last
year, he said, when the importance of interpreters became apparent.
Language experts say immersion is catching on because studies show children
learn languages faster when they are taught in that language for a significant
period of the school day.
"Immersion is so much better because language is taught naturally," Ms. Rhodes
said. "It's not the object of instruction.
In first or second grade, the goal is to learn about a social studies concept or
a science experiment and (with immersion)
you just happen to be doing it in a second language."
Hence, the students learn the social studies concept or science experiment while
learning a foreign language at the
same time, she said.
It's also practical for little kids to be immersed in a language because the
concepts are easy, she said, such as learning
colors, letters, sentence structure, addition and subtraction.
Eight-year-old Jerymer Melendez, a first-grader, said he likes learning in
Spanish because his parents speak Spanish at
Six-year-old Dallas Bowers said he finds the language "cool" and "fun" and
understands a lot of what his teacher says to
him in French.
"I learned all the colors - everyone of them. And I can count up to 100," he
said. He's also working on memorizing the days of the week, the alphabet, body
parts, and trying to read some words.
But school officials at the Academy for Multilingual Immersion Studies don't
want students to fall behind in English, especially with proficiency test
Students, therefore, begin taking half their classes in English beginning in
second grade and continue partial-immersion
through eighth grade. In the early grades, they'll take district and state tests
in the foreign language they're studying. School officials plan to analyze test
results this winter to see how the students are progressing.
Experts say starting English in second grade won't hinder the students. Ms.
Rhodes said studies show children in immersion programs on average score
as well or better on academic tests than children who are in traditional school
"Our goal isn't just language acquisition, it's high academics," said Maria
Lang, the school's program facilitator.
While the new language school is experiencing some growing pains - the
enrollment is several hundred students above what Mr. Pena feels is ideal
and some students were enrolled in the upper grades without previous language
experience - the staff and parents are hopeful the program will be successful.
"This school is in transition," said Rhonda Parham, whose 11-year-old son Malik
Kitchen attends the school. "It's overcrowded and the teachers are overwhelmed.
But a lot of my son's past teachers and instructors are here. He's
comfortable with them. Hopefully, the school will blossom into what it should
Mr. Pena said he expects the students in the upper grades to gradually increase
the hours in which they are taught in a
foreign language and he hopes eventually to implement a cultural exchange
Michele Wallace-Bowers, Dallas' mother, said she's thrilled with the program.
"It's important for me and his father that he attends an immersion school
because the ultimate goal is for these children to become fluent," she said.
"The child who is immersed in a language - like anyone who goes to another
country and learns the language - comes out with a richer understanding of the
culture and of the language."