It felt like winning a few grand on Lotto. Before I’d heard about the program, I thought the opportunity to give him the gift of a second language was, like blonde hair, something that just wasn’t in the cards. English was my second language, and although my Armenian is usually reserved for family reunions and screenings of Borat, it occasionally comes in handy in the most unexpected ways. But I never suspected my bilingual upbringing might have helped my synapses fire faster and thus boost my test scores. My mostly monolingual husband did as well – if not better – in school than I did.
Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, Ph.D., professor of Child and Adolescent Development at San Jose State University and author of many books on dual language immersion education, says, aside from the obvious benefit of learning another language, studies show highly bilingual students reach higher levels of academic and cognitive functioning than do monolingual students or students with poor bilingual skills. “With dual language immersion programs, parents are getting far more education for their kids, and they are getting it for free,” she says.
In just one year, the program at our school grew so popular that parents mobilized, and succeeded in adding a second class. “We opted for the dual language program instead of a gifted and talented program at another school,” says Denise Wilson, a Brooklyn, NY, mom whose daughter is in my son’s class. “When we didn’t make it into the lottery, a few of us on the waitlist met with the principal to find out what we could do to get the funding. We were willing to open our checkbooks. Compared to Lyc’e Français at $40,000 a year, whatever it took would likely be a bargain!”
When Aleksandra Kaminski’s husband was transferred to New York from Paris this past July, they decided to move to Brooklyn, just to put her daughter in the program in our school. Kaminski says, “Being bilingual is a luxury. Learning language is good exercise for your brain. It helps you to grow and thrive in everything. And if you travel a lot, there are no borders.”
Fabrice Jaumont, education attach’ to the French Embassy, says parents like Wilson were instrumental in launching five of these dual language programs in the New York City area. “It’s very hard to start anything at an institutional level, but when the desire for these programs comes from the parents, it’s more convincing for city officials than it coming from a foreign government.”