By Ivan Mejia
LOS ANGELES – The documentary “Speaking in Tongues” explores the importance for U.S. students in the 21st century of learning to speak other languages in public school immersion programs.
“‘Speaking in Tongues’ is a documentary about children who attend classes in schools that teach in two languages,” filmmaker Ken Schneider tells Efe.
“The movie is all about the value of being bilingual in the United States, a country that doesn’t promote people learning to speak and write well in other languages in the public educational system,” he said.
The 60-minute film, produced by PatchWorks Films, was produced in 2006 and 2007 in San Francisco public schools that have special immersion programs in two languages.
The documentary premiered in 2009 and received the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
It has been screened in schools and movie theaters in California, and next Sept. 30 it will be seen nationwide on PBS television.
“Even though 31 states have passed laws ruling that students learn only English, the San Francisco school board in 2006 approved a resolution allowing the public school system to offer bilingual education, to which some people are opposed,” Schneider said.
The characters whose progress in learning the movie producers followed for two years are...
Jason Patiño, a Mexican-American student taking the immersion course in Spanish at Buena Vista Alternative Elementary School.
Durrell Laury, an African-American boy whose mother entered him in Mandarin Chinese immersion classes at the Starr King School, because that way he will have good employment opportunities in the future.
Kelly Wong, who is learning Chinese in the Alice Fong Yu Alternative School to be able to converse with her grandma in China.
And Julian Enis, a young Caucasian who is learning Mandarin at Lowell High School and hopes for a future as an aerospace engineer.
Maria Aldaz, mother of a family who belongs to the San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence, told Efe that in her city there are currently 13 public schools that teach kids to speak and write Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Arabic and Russian.
“The immersion program is designed so that children learn English well and choose the other language when they’re 8 years old,” Aldaz, who was 4 years old when her parents came to the United States from the western Mexican state of Jalisco, said.
“I learned to speak Spanish from my parents, but I can’t write it – that’s why I got my daughter into the program and I listened to what the teachers were saying, that kids who learn in two languages develop both sides of their brains better, and that is an advantage in the other subjects they study,” she said.
Aldaz also stressed that students who learn other languages learn to appreciate other cultures.
“I believe that the United States is culturally far behind Europe. There students are taught, besides the language of their country, to speak in at least two other languages,” Aldaz said.
Dr. Elena Izquierdo, a faculty member at the University of Texas at El Paso in Teacher Education and a past vice president of the National Association for Bilingual Education, told Efe that “Speaking in Tongues” tackles the importance of preparing younger generations to speak the language of their neighbors such as Canada, where many speak French, and Latin America, where Spanish is spoken.
“What’s more, in the United States the second largest ethnic group speaks Spanish, which is why teaching it in public schools is so important,” she said. EFE