Council Members Push to Expand Dual-Language Education

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James is one of the plan's supporters. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario)

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James is one of the plan’s supporters. (Photo by Cristina Loboguerrero via El Diario)

It is said that a bilingual person is as useful as two non-bilingual people. This is the premise under which a group of City Council members are asking the Department of Education (DOE) to expand foreign language instruction in public schools, also known as dual-language education.

“Teaching languages other than English is not just an asset in a career. It also promotes curiosity about the world and improves student performance,” said Council member Mark Levine, one of the main supporters of a bill introduced on Thursday, Oct. 22, in the City Council.

The new legislation, also introduced by Council member Jumaane Williams [and others], would order the DOE to collect information and issue a report to City Hall detailing the current landscape and availability of foreign language-learning programs in the city.

There are currently 182 dual-language programs in New York City, including 40 new ones inaugurated in the fall by Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and which are taught in 154 schools. Still, some of these programs are attended by a mere 20 students, and they currently reach only 3 percent of elementary school children.

Nearly 90 percent of the programs focus on Spanish. The rest includes one program for every eight languages available, such as Mandarin (Chinese), French, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Arabic, Korean, Russian and Polish.

Martha Segovia, the mother of an 8-year-old student in Brooklyn, said that she wanted her son to have the chance to learn another language besides Spanish, which they speak at home, and English, which he learns in school. “That would make him a more competent person when the time comes to find a job. He would speak three languages. That would be my dream,” she said.

“New York is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. Our schools should offer dual-language education. This legislation we are introducing will help us make sure that students throughout the city will receive as much instruction as they deserve,” said Williams.

Yuridia Peña, spokeswoman for the DOE, said about the bill: “As a former English language learner and a bilingual New Yorker, the chancellor understands and is a strong advocate of the importance of an education that values and celebrates the learning of world languages. We share the commitment of the New York City Council and other elected officials to expand our students access to world languages in elementary grades.”

Francesco Fratto, president of the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers, pointed out the benefits of learning languages at an early age. “We make sure students reach a level of knowledge of the cultures that our country needs to relate to for business, social services and national security.”

Different types of foreign language instruction

  • Bilingual education: Classes are taught to students whose native language is not English.
  • Dual-language education: Students who are proficient in English have the chance to learn any of the eight languages taught in schools where the program is available.

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