Saturday, May 31, 2008

More South Florida parents choosing bilingual education for their children

I urge all to read a piece by Jim Crawford that lays all of this out.


More South Florida parents choosing bilingual education for their children
By Georgia East

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

May 27, 2008

Nine-year-old Bianca Herlory can strike up a conversation in French, Portuguese, Spanish or English, and recently expressed an interest in learning Mandarin.

"It's a gymnastic of the mind," said her mom, Stephanie Herlory, who introduced her daughter to foreign languages at a young age. "Once they're immersed, it comes very quickly."

As demands increase for a global work force, a growing number of South Florida parents are taking steps to make sure their children learn a second language. Many moms and dads have declared their homes "No English" zones. Some opt to send their kids to language immersion schools.

Bilingual parents are not the only ones driving the trend. Parents who speak only English are getting in on it as well.

John Melnick, of Pompano Beach, enrolled his sons, Daniel, 6, and Jonny, 4, in the Lycée Franco-Américain in Cooper City, a private, K-8 school that teaches all classes in French. His wife had done research on the school and liked the French system.

"I thought at first that there would be serious disadvantages to putting my children into a school where they speak in another language," Melnick said. "I'm getting quite an education."

Melnick is learning phrases by watching some of the French shows with his sons. His wife, who doesn't speak much French, often helps the children with their homework.

Experts agree that it's easier to introduce children to a second language when they're toddlers because their brains are able to pick up different phonetic sounds faster.

It's a misconception to think that introducing children to multiple languages at a young age will delay their language development, said Mileidis Gort, an expert in bilingual education at the University of Miami.But raising a bilingual child is not easy in a country where English is dominant.

Kim Thomasson, the dual language specialist for the Palm Beach County School District , formed a support group with neighbors who speak Spanish after she enrolled her son, now 10, in a Spanish immersion program at his public school, New Horizons Elementary.

"I knew that unless we spoke exclusively in Spanish and compensated for the overwhelming English in their lives, it would be difficult," said Barry Silver, of Boca Raton, who makes it a point to speak to his sons Ari, 6, and Brandon, 3, in Spanish only.

There are hurdles. Parenting in one language can be difficult enough.

As children advance in language programs, their skills sometimes surpass their parents'. Some Palm Beach County public schools with dual language programs have parent support groups. The teachers send homework instructions in both English and the foreign language so the moms and dads can help if need be.

The challenges haven't reduced interest. North Grade Elementary School in Lake Worth has offered a dual language program for 10 years. In that time, the number of kindergarten classes participating in the program has grown from two to six, said Diana Perez, the school's dual language coordinator.

Palm Beach County offers language immersion programs at 22 schools. Broward County offers similar programs at three schools.

At the Lycée in Cooper City, Principal Jacquelyne Hoy said the private school is becoming more popular among parents who don't speak French.

The local interest mirrors what experts say is happening on a national level.

The Center for Applied Linguistics is getting more calls about foreign language preschool, according to staffers who track it informally.

"We've definitely seen a surge," said Nancy Rhodes, director of foreign language education at the center. "This is the 21st century. We're living in a global society. We have got to learn languages if we want to negotiate with other countries and get along."

Now that well-heeled parents are making another language a priority for their kids, some say they hope it will encourage more Americans to appreciate bilingual skills.

"Bilingualism has always been a phenomenon of immigrants," said Gort. "Until we get over the notion that English is the only language worth learning, we're not over the hump."

Asta Oskarsdottir of Sunrise, who moved here about a year ago from Iceland, said she continues to speak to her 4-year-old son, Oskar, in Icelandic. "I know how important it is to know your roots," she said.

Oskar is also learning Spanish and speaks English pretty well, she said.

Marie Ramirez of Weston was losing her Spanish until she decided to speak it and teach it to her 5-year-old daughter, Laura.

Ramirez was born here, but her mother, who was born in Cuba, spoke to her in Spanish and French Creole, she said. Ramirez didn't speak much Spanish to her three older children, and as a result they didn't pick it up. When she married her second husband, Alan, who is from Guatemala, she decided to make speaking in Spanish a priority.

"My daughter speaks better Spanish than I do," Ramirez said.

When her daughter responds in English, Ramirez's automatic response these days is, "Dígame en Español": "Tell me in Spanish."

Georgia East can be reached at or 954-356-4629.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

No comments:

Post a Comment