Language Over Immersion


Mike Golz, Editor

Quoting Bible verses tends to get you weird looks these days. But whether or not you believe in God, here is verse that should strike a chord: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11). The English language is something that a majority of us speak, allowing us to work collaboratively to achieve at an impressive level. But in Minnetonka, the warning against jeopardizing this potential has gone unheeded.

The above excerpt comes from a biblical story, the Tower of Babel, in which the people of Earth work together to build a tower to heaven, stopped only when their capacity for common language is destroyed. Such diversion of language is happening to us at home, here in Minnetonka, with the language immersion programs. Now I don’t mean to attack the powerful idea that is bilingualism. It is surely a valuable skill that has been shown to help concentration in school and provide advantages in the work place as well. But I have some lingering worries about what such a grand immersion scheme could do to us on the home front.

In our district, all 6 of our elementary schools offer either a Spanish of Chinese immersion program. These programs are expansive, involving [percentage] of kids all over the district in an attempt to provide an effective K-12 education in a foreign language.  Having spent time in first grade Spanish immersion classes, it is easy to see the frustration present in these programs. Kids are required to speak in the language for the entire day, learning everything from math to reading in nothing but Spanish.

The confused faces of exasperated niños makes me wonder how much is too much. I worry that the grand experiment is so pervasiveness that the quality and speed of students’ educations may be in jeopardy. I don’t mean to overstate the danger of the language programs. I just think they are designed with global objectives in mind when in reality, K-12 must prepare our kids socially as well as academically at an appropriate pace and intensity. Nobody is really even sure what might happen to these students when they reach the high school. Is there a chance that a school which works so hard to unite the student body will be pulled apart by the divisive nature of multiple language factions? It’s not grounds for getting rid of the programs, it’s just food for thought that at least in my experience, over-immersion tends to cause drowning.