French Invades New York

As a language teacher, I know that speaking two or more languages is a blessing. The more avenues we have to reach out to one another, the better off we are. Being bilingual or multilingual increases both cognitive ability and our ability to stay abreast of news and trends across the globe. Being able to enjoy music, films, and other cultural works in another language adds interest to our lives. Lately, I have been following a discussion on LinkedIn’s Alliance Francaise group called “Lament: The move of American Schools to Discontinue the Teaching of French.” (See WriteWireless post “When the World Spoke French”). Several dozen members have shared their dissatisfaction, concern, and opinions as to why the study of French (and other world languages) is declining in our public schools.

In New York City, quite the opposite seems to be happening. There is a growing number of options for children to learn French starting in the preschool years and continuing through high school. Some schools are private, but a growing number of public schools are now promoting French language in a big way. For just over two years, the French government has been instituting a French language education program in public elementary schools that is taking the city by storm. Spearheaded by the French Embassy’s Educational Attaché Fabrice Jaumont and enthusiastically supported by local parents, the program is instituting French bilingual and French immersion programs in neighborhood schools. To date, 32 new French-English programs have opened their doors to public school children in seven NYC public schools. The model has spread to two more programs in New Haven, Connecticut, with a total of almost 1,000 students in grades K-8 benefitting from French language as a foundation of their schooling. Parents have been very enthusiastic about the prospect of giving their children the gift of another language, and with it, a broader world view and increased opportunities to be players in our global community.

As any language educator can tell you, in order to become fluent, the earlier a language is acquired, the greater the the degree of fluency one can attain. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (or ACTFL, the national body that advises the U.S. Department of Education) states in its position statement that:

Learning languages should be a central part of the curriculum at all levels of instruction, from young learners through graduate school and adults (Pre-K through 20).

ACTFL further states that

Research corroborates additional benefits [of early language learning experience] including strengthening of literacy in students’ first language, raising standardized test scores in other subject areas, and developing comfort with cultural differences.  (From ACTFL Position Statements, Updated 2011)

During this era of global economic upheaval, when the jobless and worried find their universe closing in on them, it is refreshing and encouraging to find members of the world community who are taking the long view, working to strengthen ties of language, culture, and common understanding that will endure when the current crisis has passed.

To read more about New York’s French schools, click on the “Schools” tab in New York in French (a French cultural website linked to the French Embassy), or read Monica Burton’s article in NYU’s Shoe Leather Magazine: A Language en Vogue: As French loses its place in U.S. public schools, in New York City it thrives.

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