When Rachel Martinez-Regan graduated from Corvallis High School last month, her diploma had a little something extra—an embossed seal certifying that she is bilingual.
Martinez-Regan is one of more than a dozen students at the Oregon high school who earned the distinction based on their proficiency in English and Spanish. Martinez-Regan said the dual-language program was academically challenging but she’s certain it will give her career plans a boost. “I’m thinking of becoming a lawyer, to give the Spanish-speaking community a voice,”said Martinez-Regan, who is half Latina but did not speak Spanish before enrolling in the program. She will attend Yale University this fall.
Dual-language programs are gaining in popularity across the country as employers seek bilingual, bicultural workers. Increasingly, parents also view bilingualism as necessary for their children’s success in a globalized world.
“The fact that our program is Mandarin Chinese was nice since it’s the fastest-growing language in the business world,”said Fraser, Mich., parent Charbel Salem. Salem’s twin fifth-grade sons have participated in a partial immersion program at their public elementary school since kindergarten. Salem is impressed with how easily the boys picked up the unfamiliar language, particularly considering that neither Salem nor his wife speak it. The twins spend half of their day with a native Chinese teacher, the other half with an English-speaking teacher.
“I was raised in a multi-lingual home and as a child I never really valued it,”said Salem, whose parents are Lebanese and spoke Arabic at home. “As an adult, I regret not being more disciplined to learn to read and write another language.”
Popular choices for dual-language programs include Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Russian. While programs vary in their structure, generally students take literacy and academic subjects in the foreign language for at least part of their school day.
Congress first mandated bilingual education in 1968 as a way to keep non-English-speaking students from falling behind their peers. But in the 1980s and 90s, many programs were discontinued due to concerns about English losing its primacy.
In recent years, though, bilingual education has regained its popularity and is increasingly attracting native English speakers. The number of dual-language programs ballooned from about 260 nationwide in 2000 to about 3,000 today, according to the Maryland-based National Association for Bilingual Education.
Graduates earning the special seals on their diplomas could get college credit or advanced placement in college courses, said David Bautista, assistant superintendent in the Oregon Department of Education Equity Unit.
“A world-class education needs to teach fluency in more than one language,” he said. “In other countries that’s already embedded.”