The population of the United States is exploding through legal immigration of multilingual people, leading to a more diverse country. Today, America is defined by her constituencies, who represent peoples of every nation. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, “The foreign-born population in the United States has increased substantially since the 1970s, largely due to immigration from Asia and Latin America. In 2008, 22.0 percent of children in the United States had at least one foreign-born parent.” This means nearly 1 in 4 children in the U.S. in 2008 had foreign heritage only one generation before them.
Many of these children are raised in bilingual homes, advancing them forward in the world of education. This bilingual generation of children has promoted, to many parents, the need for a multicultural and multilingual education. Hannah Emery, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley,examined certain child cultivation methods parents use when raising their children, as it relates to the desire for a multi-cultural identity. “To answer the question of what unconscious motivations parents bring into play when choosing how to cultivate their children, the author interviewed parents who had all chosen a similar cultivation method: enrollment in foreign language immersion schools.” In essence, parents are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of knowing more than one language, and are choosing to enroll their children in schools that offer language immersion.
Benefits of Language in Child Development
According to Ellen Bialystok of York University, “What is clear is the evidence: in controlled studies of cognitive performance across the life span, bilinguals consistently outperform their monolingual counterparts.” From childhood to maturity, people who speak more than one language are able to perform tasks more efficiently. For example, cognitive skill tests such as working memory, showed that bilingual children had a quicker response time to the questions they were asked. Research, conducted on children and adults, shows that the social situations which produce the best language skills are those where language immersion is the only option; where it is required by the circumstances of life. Language immersion education is a perfect example of a life requirement; a situation where students are forced to speak the foreign language. Having a multilingual education will also allow students to better compete in a global workforce once they graduate. Students who experience language immersion will have an upper hand in the world of globalization and cultural competency.
Why is Language Immersion Important?
In many states in the U.S., foreign language education is required for public and private schools. However, generally only 1-2 courses may be required or recommended, which can lead to an understanding of the language, but not a professional proficiency. In schools that offer language immersion programs, students must speak their secondary language of choice in every part of their daily routine. Often, teachers will instruct their classes in other languages and will not permit students to speak their native languages. This breeds a full immersion environment in which students quickly adapt and comprehend these secondary languages.
It is no secret that the United States educational system, compared with many countries in the world, is behind as it relates to the number of students that speak more than 1 language. However, each year the foreign-born population increases in the United States, which leads to a more diverse language base. As parents recognize the usefulness of language, schools will have to adapt to a language immersion style of teaching if they wish to change the status quo. By doing this, students will have more learning opportunities, which may generate even more successful students. After all, isn’t that what all parents want?
By: Daniel Harvey, Relocation Services Intern, The International Center