Start a Language Program
Does your child’s school not currently offer a language program? With our guide and these language-specific advocacy resources, you and fellow advocates can join together to make a positive impact.
Looking for resources specific to your child’s target language? See the links below for some tools and ideas to get you started.
Chinese – Mandarin
- For Parents and Community – Center for Global Education, Asia Society
- Market and Advocate for Your Chinese Language Immersion Program – Center for Global Education, China Learning Initiatives, Asia Society
- Mandarin Immersion Parents Council
- AATG Advocacy Hub
- How to Start a German Charter School – Jo Sanders, AATG
- Goethe-Institut Advocacy Toolkit
- Advocacy: Making Our Case – AATJ
- Advocacy Kit – Japan Foundation
- Useful Advocacy Resources – Japan Foundation
Native American Languages
- “Community Voices Coming Together” Breakout Session Symposium Notes – Indigenous Language Institute
- Take Action – National Coalition of Native American Language Schools & Programs
- Parent Involvement Links – Teaching Indigenous Languages
- Program Development: Developing Your Program for Maximum Enrollment – The School of Russian and Asian Studies
Starting a Language Program in Elementary Schools
Let’s Get This Program Started!
Increasingly, parents and community members are speaking up for language programs at the elementary school level. They see the value of language learning for the future academic and career options of their children as well as feeling an obligation to make sure that their children are prepared to live and work in today’s global environment.
Following are guidelines for building school and community interest in beginning a new language program at the elementary level.
Whether you are interested in getting a program started in a public, private, or other type of school, it takes time. Schools need to consider a number of issues before adding a new program and need to follow the budget and curriculum timelines for the school, which could feasibly take several years. In addition, implementation of new language programs typically involves “grandfathering” the program in beginning in pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten and adding a new grade level each year. Those who are interested in the implementation of new programs need to anticipate at least a two-year timeframe between the initial interest and the actual implementation.
Begin by gathering information to build a rationale and convincing argument for starting a program. This includes:
- List of benefits of learning languages at an early age including cognitive, academic, and social.
- Data regarding the growth of elementary programs at the elementary level including nearby schools and school districts that offer language at the elementary level.
- Wording from the school district or school’s own mission and/or vision statements that refer to preparing students for the 21st century. Almost all schools have some indication in these statements that they are preparing students for the future and language advocates can capitalize on these statements by pointing to the contribution that language programs make to this endeavor.
- List of the other special programs supported by the school or school district. High quality language programs use the regular school curriculum as the content for the language instruction. If the school currently has a specialized program, for example, in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, an argument can be made for teaching these subjects in the foreign/target language and essentially accomplishing two things in one task.
Parents and community members advocating for implementation of a language program need to mobilize support both within and beyond the school itself. The following groups or individuals can become important advocates for the effort:
- PTA/PTO officers or board members at the school
- School Principal or Assistant Principal
- School district personnel responsible for curriculum and instruction or teaching and learning
- School Board or Board of Trustees members
- Other influencers of school district decision-making
Get a Meeting
Now armed with information and a group of supporters, request a meeting with those in the school district who can make this decision. It is important to contact the school principal first and find out the best way to proceed.
Make a Visit
It is highly recommended that you organize a visit to an elementary language program in your area, if available. Sometimes School Board members and school district personnel can be convinced once they see a current program in action. It’s challenging for adults who have not experienced the way young children acclimate to learning a language to understand exactly how it works until they see it. It can also be convincing if these decision-makers see students in an adjacent or nearby school district benefiting from the opportunity to learn a second language.
Once the decision has been made to implement a program, the parent/community group should work cooperatively with the school system professionals on the implementation.
Choose the Language
This aspect of the program is very important. Parents and community members who advocate for a language program are more successful if they are willing to leave the choice of the language up to the school. It is important that the school community embrace the language selected and that the resources are available in terms of staffing the program and providing instructional resources. And since the research shows that once children have learned a second language, the third and fourth are acquired more easily, the choice of a specific language should not be a point of contention. It is highly recommended that the school conduct a survey of parents and/or community members to determine the language interest of the community served by the school.
Select the Program Model
School system staff will undoubtedly develop the program model that works best for the respective school environment and budget. There are intensive programs called dual language immersion programs and less intensive programs called Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) programs. A well-articulated language program with identified language outcomes benefits students are the key criteria for program success, regardless of the specific model chosen. Parents and community members need to pay attention to the qualities of the program (articulated sequence, identified program outcomes) rather than a specific program model.
Start Planning Early for the Transition to Middle and High School
A critical aspect of any elementary language program is planning for the smooth transition as students advance to middle school and then high school. Since these students will be functioning at a proficiency level higher than former students, it is important that they have a planned program that will allow them to continue to build their language proficiency as they move up through the grades. When an elementary school anticipates implementing a language program, the middle and high schools into which the students will feed should be involved in the planning from the beginning.
Support the Program
Parents and community members play a significant role in successful program implementation by supporting the program by:
- Holding fundraisers to build program resources.
- Encouraging cultural opportunities within the community for all the students.
- Speaking positively about the program out in the community.
- Taking any concerns about the program directly to the school principal or appropriate district personnel.
For more information:
Curtain, Helena & Dahlberg, Carol Ann. Languages and Children Making the Match: New Languages for Young Learners, Grades K-8. Pearson.
Are you part of a parent or community advocacy group that it is championing languages? Have you started or expanded a language program in your area? Fighting to save a threatened language program? Successes, challenges, resources—we want to hear from you! Click here to send us a message.
Started as a grassroots movement of parents, educators, and community members, DC Immersion is a not-for-profit whose mission is to improve opportunity for DC and its residents by preparing a 21st century ready, linguistically and culturally competent workforce—through the systemic, equitable, and socioeconomically integrated implementation of programs like Dual Language Immersion throughout the nation’s capital.