The Champaign–Urbana metropolitan area of Illinois is betting strongly on dual language education, as schools in Champaign prepare themselves to offer dual language programs for kindergarteners and first graders as from next year. Urbana, which is already enjoying its second year of dual language education, is considering starting a new program which would have English and Mandarin Chinese as the two languages involved.
Dual Education Programs in Urbana and Champaign
Urbana’s dual education program involves having students studying 90 percent of the time in Spanish and only 10 percent in English. The percentages are then modified until students are taught in both languages in the same proportion, generally by the time they reach fourth grade.
Champaign’s dual education program, on the other hand, will start off teaching children in both languages equally: 50 percent English and 50 percent Spanish. The aim is to make every student bilingual, biliterate and bicultural, stated Champaign’s director of English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education, Maria Alanis.
According to Joe Wiemelt, who supervises the program in Urbana, the district has already witnessed positive outcomes, both academically and socially. Wiemelt highlighted that children with two different mother tongues and coming from a variety of backgrounds are growing up to be friends. Families are also learning together with students, which has an impact on the community. Academically, dual language students are performing better than the rest on various examinations. Such a positive outcome has made decision makers in Urbana believe that incorporating a new program involving English and Mandarin would further the benefits.
Plans for the Future
Mandarin Chinese was chosen as the next language to work with because around 80 native Mandarin speakers attend schools at Urbana. Wiemelt stated that, in order to research into the idea, he will be contacting the administrators of districts in Chicagoland which already work with Mandarin-English dual education programs.
Dual Language Education
Dual language education involves teaching children in two languages who speak different native languages to begin with. The goal of this type of education is centred on the idea that bilingualism is an advantage which benefits people in their personal as well as professional life, especially in today’s globalised world. Children are taught to read and write in two languages and are generally proficient in their use before they reach high school. As Maria Alanis puts it, being bilingual “opens doors for you.”