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Language immersion should be all-inclusive


By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo

If you are American or choose to come here and to permanently reside in the United States, than you should learn the language of our nation just as immigrants in the past had to accept, respect and learn the language of their host country. Of course, if you choose to pass your heritage language to your children and grandchildren, it is certainly important that you make every effort to do so with the understanding that they must first learn English. It is also important that school administrations not give one language preferential treatment. This may lead some non-English speakers to believe that there’s no need to learn English and at the same time puts other heritage and/or global economy foreign languages in the position to easily be “swept under the rug” and discounted as unimportant.

To offer a more inclusive and broad-based choice of languages in its schools, the New Jersey Department of Education Foreign Language Framework included the following recommendation in its core curriculum standards for the state’s school districts. Each school district was to offer “choice of language which should include community input, parental feedback, and local demographics.” This recommendation is well thought out and is a universally valid consideration that school districts nationwide do not seem to have yet accepted. This often results in one language continually getting preferential treatment without regard to heritage learners or the need for teaching a variety of foreign languages to meet the needs of the growing global economy.

As a former language instructor I was often asked why more languages were not offered in various school districts serving kindergarten through high school. Many school administrations seem to have forgotten that the real world consists of five other continents beside the Americas. The real world, because of modern technologies, gets “smaller” each day. In order to compete in the “real world economy” we have to produce students with the ability to communicate in the languages that lead in the growing global economy. These include Italian, German, Japanese and Chinese. In the world of diplomacy, Russian and Arabic also certainly warrant consideration.

Here in the Delaware Valley, the home of nation’s second largest Italian-American Community, considering Italian as a heritage language is a consideration for making it an immersion program choice. However beyond that point, students of music and drama benefit greatly from knowledge of Italian, especially those who aspire to be singers. Future actors can count on the fact that after Hollywood, Rome’s Cinecitta will continue to be a leader in the production of award-winning film classics.

There are many more reasons for selecting the many world economy and/or heritage languages such as Italian for immersion programs, rather than one favored for what seems to be political so as to garnish votes at election time. It seems as if very little consideration has been given to other valid choices, and it also seems that English is being compromised as this nation’s language and destined to eventually become our nation’s “second language.”

It should not take a recommendation like the above quoted from New Jersey’s Core Standards for school superintendents and educators to realize the need to make foreign language program selection more inclusive, not more and more exclusive. It should be a matter of good research, impartiality and a realization that in today’s world our schools need to produce graduates with diverse foreign language fluency. 

Community Calendar

July 11-16: The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival, the longest-running Italian festival in  the country, will take place on Mount Carmel Lane, Hammonton, N.J. Amusements, carnival, Italian delicacies, beer garden, fireworks, enter-tainment on two stages throughout the week. To learn more, visit mountcarmelsociety.org.

Aug. 27: The Holy Saviour Holy Name Society of Norristown, Pa., will host a trip to see the Phillies play the New York Mets at Citi Field in New York. The cost is $100 and includes a reserved ticket and a seat on the Perkiomen Tours motor coach. The bus leaves Holy Saviour parking lot at 2 p.m. Refreshments are allowed on the bus. There
will be time to explore Citi Field. For tickets contact Mike Angelucci, (610) 213-1196.

Oct. 2: St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish  in South Philadelphia will hold its annual Italian Festival and Procession of Saints. It all happens from noon to 9 p.m. on the 1700 block of South Ninth Street and beyond. Free parking in the Neumann-Goretti High School lot at 10th and Moore streets.

Oct. 9: The Da Vinci Society will hold its annual Vendemmia at Bellevue State Park in Wilmington. Details about the Vendemmia will be announced in upcoming issues.

Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo is a retired New Jersey elementary school teacher of Italian and Spanish, and a past president of the American Association of Teachers of Italian, Delaware Valley Chapter.

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