Interest Growing for Bilingual Learning in NY

In dual language programs, 50 percent of the instruction is in English and the other half is in the other language. (Photo via El Diario)

In dual-language programs, 50 percent of the instruction is in English and the other half is in the other language. (Photo via El Diario)

Seven-year-old Javier Humphreys, of Puerto Rican descent, attends a dual-language program at his school in East Harlem, Manhattan. At home, his family speaks English, as his parents and two of his grandparents were born in New York. Humphreys joined the program in order to learn Spanish.

His mother, Mayra López Humphreys, 38, said that when a teacher offered to enroll Javier, who is autistic, in the dual-language program, she did not hesitate for a second.

“We always tried to get him to learn about his Puerto Rican heritage, including the language of his grandparents, and this seemed ideal,” said López.

Interest for these programs is growing steadily among families whose first language is English and who want their children to learn a second one.

In some schools, applications have tripled this year, according to the Department of Education (DOE). New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who participated in a similar initiative during her school years, promised to expand the program.

“When compared to ESL (English as a Second Language), we have found that dual language has better results,” said Claudia Aguirre, chief executive officer of the DOE’s Office of English Language Learners.

Dual language, currently offered in over 100 public schools, is one of two existing bilingual programs and one of three originally designed for students who are learning English. It is taught only in the first three years of grade school, although a few high schools are also applying it. In the other program, Transitional Bilingual Education, children are taught in their native language with a gradual increase in English content until they become proficient.

Currently, most students who are not fluent in English are enrolled in ESL, a monolingual program preferred by previous municipal administrations.

In dual language, students take 50 percent of their classes in English, and the other half in the target foreign language. In order for the program to work, it is necessary to have students whose first language is English as well as students who master the second language. Although Spanish is the most popular, several schools focus on Chinese, Arabic and other languages.

P.S. 112 began offering the program two years ago with Spanish as a target language for kindergarten students. Today, they have eight classes, and they are taught Spanish all the way to third grade. “This year, we have already received 70 applications just for kindergarten,” said Principal Eileen Reiter. The school’s program is unique, because it incorporates autistic students like Javier.

López admits that her son had a hard time adjusting to learning in a different language. “At first, he told me: ‘I am American; I don’t want to speak Spanish,'” she said. Two years later, Javier is in first grade, and she said that both his attitude and his academic development have improved outstandingly.

“The program makes a big difference. In no time, even I won’t be able to understand him when he speaks Spanish!” said López.

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