I had the opportunity to watch a documentary “Speaking in Tongues” on my local PBS station.
Before I saw the documentary, I was not absolutely sure what occurred at a language immersion school. I thought the students had additional class time in a second language. I did not know that it involved learning regular subjects in the second language. An argument for immersion schools is the need to learn other subjects (ie math, science, etc) in other languages, which is necessary for academic language proficiency. Imagine if you could talk about chemistry or history in a different language. Then it becomes truly useful. I think this comes in really handy, especially for students who arrived from a different country after a certain age. If a person is not used to things in a certain language, it would be twice as difficult to understand it in a new language. I still translate the names of people and places in Chinese history from English to Chinese for better understanding. I know it in English, but because I learned some of the history in Chinese, I remember other things when I hear or see the Chinese name. I think it’s also easier for me to remember the multiplication table in Chinese.
The documentary brings together so many stories. Three of the students are in Chinese immersion and one student is in Spanish immersion. The debates surrounding the immersion school issue are occurring between parents and family members. But the students are completely content living with dual languages and dual cultures, which are not necessarily their own. Just think how wonderful it is to have an entire generation of adults who can appreciate and understand another culture. This only leads to people who can understand the world beyond their own. At the same time, it also keeps people attached to their own culture. I’m particularly moved by the story of Kelly, who is in Cantonese immersion school. Her parents do not speak Cantonese because of assimilation. However, her grandmother only speaks Cantonese. So now Kelly can be the missing link between generations.