Echoes of the Heart: Bi-lingual education

Religious By Dr. Jeffrey Frantz, Special to The Miami Laker Thursday, September 5, 2013

 

The new excitement for bi-lingual education. Increasingly, in recent years, school districts around the country are tapping into the benefits to the brain of bi-lingual education. 

In our greater Miami context, of course, bilingualism is everywhere. In the idiom of us locals, it is called Spanglish. In the years ahead, it will be interesting to see how South Florida plugs in to what may soon be a national trend in advocacy for bi-lingual education programs. 

Interestingly enough, the state of Utah is apparently leading the way in these programs. A recent TIME Magazine article relates how all over Utah, elementary-school students are joking, studying, singing and fluently speaking in languages not their own: French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and, soon, Portuguese. Utah's statewide program is the most ambitious total-immersion language education program ever implemented in the United States. 

To date, it includes 20,000 children in 100 schools, or 20 percent of the schools in the state with nearly 95 percent of the school districts participating through 12th grade. 

Competition for enrollment in the bi-lingual program is great and, presently, students are chosen by lottery. The students selected take half their subjects each day in the new language and the other half in English. The gifts of the bi-lingual brain. 

In recent years research is showing that bi-lingual education creates a more nimble brain, a mind better at reasoning, multi-tasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. As studies show and TIME affirms: Multi-cognitive faculties last longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer's disease (sometimes by as much as four or five years). 

While this doesn't necessarily mean the bi-lingual brain is more intelligent, it does seem to be more flexible and resourceful. The implications here are significant. Indeed, monolingualism, says Gregg Roberts, a language-immersion specialist with the Utah state office of education, is the illiteracy of the 21st century. 

From a scientific point of view, apparently the bi-lingual brain ends up being wired differently, with more connections and a greater capacity to make connections as well. This translates into enhanced ability to multi-task, to be sure, to say nothing of conserving energy (i.e., reducing stress) in the process. With parents becoming more aware of these benefits, school systems around the country are paying attention. 

Already, educators from 22 other states have visited Utah with the hope of starting their own bi-lingual program. What an opportunity for South Florida! What all of this means for us here in South Florida is that, quite possibly, we might have a leg up on the rest of the country. We might be the best incubator our nation has for tapping into the brain-potential of our children. Already, we are amazingly bi-lingual. 

I don't have details on the extent of bi-lingual education in our Miami-Dade County schools (in Broward County, too) but my guess is, it is significant. Still, we can always build on what we are already doing and even add new languages in the process. 

This year, our pre-school here at the church, The Growing Place, has added language instruction in both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese (on a very part time basis) as part of our pre-school curriculum. Early on, parents are excited about the prospects and there is a buzz about the impact this will have, over time, on our pre-schoolers. 

Forever, many of us Americans have envied the advantages Europeans and others have over us with languages. Being bi-lingual, even poly-lingual in many parts of the word has become common place. On the surface, this new excitement about bi-lingual education would seem to be  a win-win for all of us. 

Giving birth to a more brainy culture can only make us better, to say nothing of opening wider the doors of Americans everywhere to a deeper experience of the international community.

(Contact Dr. Frantz on the web at www.mlcchurch.com.) 

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