Local News

Students schooled in second languages earlier than ever

Posted November 5, 2009 7:25 a.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2009 7:49 a.m. EST

— Most students begin learning a foreign language in middle or high school, but some North Carolina children are picking up a second language beginning in kindergarten.

Howard Hall Elementary School in Fayetteville is one of several schools across the state to use language immersion classes, which teaches children to read, write and do their work in a second language.

In 2005, the state had seven language immersion programs. As of November, there are 47 programs. Some schools have multiple programs in different languages, including Spanish, Japanese, French and German.

Splash! Language Immersion, a Chapel Hill-based company, has helped establish and manage nine of the programs.

“The great thing about these programs is children get a good academic experience, and they also become fluent in another language,” said Splash! CEO Alan Young.

Parents can volunteer to enroll their kids in language immersion. All students must start the program at the kindergarten level to ensure fluency and success, school leaders said.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Chatham County, Cumberland County and Johnston County schools are just some of the places where language immersion is taught.

Howard Hall Elementary has two kindergarten classes that focus on teaching children in Spanish.

“From the very beginning, it’s only Spanish so that they get used to the language, so they get used to everything we’re saying,” said Howard Hall teacher Yadira Munoz.

Munoz, who is from Honduras, has taught in several countries and is licensed to teach in North Carolina. Immersion teachers all follow the N.C. Standard Course of Study.

Parent Misty Hevey said she is amazed at how her daughter, Finn, is thriving.

“Her mind just automatically works in Spanish and English already,” she said.

In 10 weeks, students can read some books in Spanish and they can write sentences in the foreign language.

Splash! Leaders said they hope to start a Chinese immersion program next fall.