Bilingual is Better

Mandarin Immersion

I heard this really interesting story on NPR the other day about Macon, Georgia public schools which are now becoming Mandarin immersion programs. While I thought this was a cool idea, I was shocked by some of the community reactions.

There was anxiety on the part of some parents due to the fact that the Chinese instructors were being funded by local nonprofits backed by the Chinese government. NPR reported that, “Some parents see a Communist regime enacting its geopolitical agenda on their children.”

At this point, I will admit I laughed out loud.

The idea that some political agenda is magically transmitted when a person learns a language is silly. But it’s not actually funny; it’s scary.

It’s unsettling to know that my fellow Americans are threatened by the idea of their children learning a language other than English. The level of xenophobia inherent in this attitude makes me mourn for the children of parents who fear non-English speakers and the cultures we represent.

One mother apparently didn’t see the point in teaching students a second language when the schools overall were struggling to meet standards. She remarked, “Do you want to teach them how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in Mandarin?”

Nowhere in the article did the writers mention the proven benefits of being bilingual. I can relate to parents who want the best education for their kids. It just so happens that one “best practice” is bilingual education. In fact, in many ways, it’s the gold standard. In many countries around the world, students routinely learn in dual languages. It is in the U.S. with our fear of cultural or political “infiltration” that our students miss out on the important opportunity to be fluent in more than one language.

Towards the end of the report, other parents were cited as expressing a desire for a  Spanish program instead of a Mandarin one, but if people are ruffled by the idea of a Chinese “agenda,” given the level of anti-immigrant sentiment present today, I can only imagine the fear that would be caused by any program funded by a Latin-American country in our schools.

There is an “opt-out” choice for parents in Macon, Georgia. Because it’s a free country, after all, that seems appropriate. I just hope they can explain to their kids why they chose to prevent them from learning one of the most useful languages on the planet.

Here’s hoping that parents in Macon, Georgia will pick up a copy of our own Bilingual is Better, so that they may better appreciate the opportunity being offered to their children.

{Photo via: IvanWalsh.com}

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