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Menlo Park On Track For Adopting FLES

Original post made by Simon Firth on Nov 23, 2007

Supporters of FLES in Palo Alto might be interested to know that, after a Nov. 20th school board vote, the Menlo Park school district is on track to adopt an elementary foreign language (or FLES) program. The plan they are considering would slightly extend the school day, rationalize the way core and enrichment classes are scheduled and add several Spanish specialists.

For more info see:
Web Link

Would this work for Palo Alto?

Comments (126)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2007 at 1:07 pm

I think that this is an excellent way to do this. I can see that some parents, the teachers (unions?), may complain, particularly those who feel that Spanish is not what their children should learn, but it makes sense to me. I like the way Menlo Park is doing it, one choice fits all. Give too many choices and someone will be unhappy, give one for all, and your choice is like it or not.

I hope that most will fall into the like it category.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm

The support for FLES - especially Spanish - baffles me. It does not seem well thought through. While the rest of the world is learning English as never before, we now think it is a priority to teach children Spanish?

Also interesting that elementary ed is the emphasis - what about requiring language study for graduation? The FLES approach seems similar to the way we teach instrumental music in PA - recorder and instrument required in 4th and 5th grade, then optional thereafter. I'm not sure how effective that really is in producing music-fluent children; the same goes for language study.

I hope that the current push for language study proceeds with moderation - if it is truly important, we will see the need and benefits, and be able to do more. Right now, this feels like a big flavor of the month. An optional after-school program, at modest cost to participants, could flush out how big demand is, without wholesale restructuring of the day, as Menlo Park has done. And there is always Rosetta Stone on the web, available for free from the library (my kids love it).

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 23, 2007 at 3:30 pm


Foreign language instruction for all Palo Alto elementary school students is not "flavor of the month."

The benefits of exposing foreign languages to students at this age are very well researched, documented, and consistently show improvement overall in students' learning abilities in other disciplines when language is part of their curriculum. And by the way, it significantly improves their ability to achieve full proficiency in foreign language, should they elect to do so in their secondary school years.

It also has been something people such as myself have advocated in Palo Alto for more than a dozen years. Unlike previous efforts, this one is getting some "muscle" put behind it. At the time that Spanish Immersion was launched, a FLES program also was attempted, but it was not well thought out or supported properly in its nascent stages, and consequently failed.

This time, it looks like the people working on this are going about it the right way, have the support of the District leadership, are working with the teachers and staff to work through various policy and practical questions that attend this matter. I am sure will socialize it with the community when they are ready with their proposed plan of action.

Spanish is a logical, but not the only, option for a FLES program. It is an important consideration which language or languages are selected, but there are many other questions that must be addressed that are independent of the language selection.

Your understanding appears to be quite limited of the benefits, the history of FLES here in Palo Alto and in other districts around the country with which we compare ourselves, and how it is not "plug and play" that is an option after school. Properly done, it will add a dimension of language and cultural learning to our students that they currently do not get, and will support and reinforce the learning that they currently receive with the exisiting curriculum.

It is fine to have misgivings about a program such as this, but please take a little time to familiarize yourself more fully with FLES. You may still have the same opinions you expressed above, or your point of view may change. All of us benefit from a discussion that is grounded in a fuller understanding of the matter at hand before taking positions around it.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Well Paul, thanks for illuminating my "limited understanding." But I have thought and researched this issue a bit, and while it appeals to you, I do not think it is a great idea of PAUSD.

While you have supported language for a long time, as you know in the last PAUSD strategic planning cycle, it was at or near the bottom of the priority list. In the Bregman survey on educational priorities presented to PAUSD in March 2006 (Web Link
pkt_040406.pdf), foreign language study was 11 out of 11 priorities listed for elementary eduction among the PA Community. That was 18 months ago! Now, for whatever reason (perhaps MI?), it may be higher. Next cycle, it may be lower again. Hence my call for moderation.

I am always disappointed when someone raises the issue of "language (or art, or music, or ...) study improves overall cognitive development (measured however)." It is the same "Baby Einstein" thinking that causes insecure parents to buy those videos or play in-utero Mozart. I believe the research does not support the claims and will be happy to review any literature you can link to (within reasonable numbers of course) and discuss the findings in this space or elsewhere. All that I have reviewed to date suffers from the usual problems with educational research: (1) no control group (2) self-selecting samples (3) Hawthorne effect and/or (4) not applicable to what is being considered (e.g., a totally different program). As my mom, a PhD in education and now retired principal, puts it, "just about all educational research is crap." But maybe you can point to something that is not.

Putting aside the "collateral benefits" - how useful is foreign language study for an English speaker? Have you looked at foreign language study practices in other English speaking countries? The UK has about the same penetration of foreign language study as the US - surprising, given their smaller size and proximity to the polyglot EU. Australia and NZ - even less than the US. So why is that? The answer that seems likely is that the rest of the world is learning English at a headlong pace, since it is the de facto world standard for business, popular culture (music and movies), and the Internet. There is great value for non-English speakers to learn English; less so in the other direction.

All the above said - I have no problem with language study (or the study of almost any field of interest); my own kids take language in school or use Rosetta Stone at home. But expending our limited PAUSD dollars and attention to "expose" our student population to a limited amount of some non-English language seems almost frivolous to me, given the needs of ELLs, Special Ed, and Achievement Gap students, not to mention maintaining class sizes in the face of enrollment growth. I would also love all our kids to study more writing, statistics, computer science, character and values, rhetoric - there's tons to do. Hence my suggestion that if others find language study most important, it be made available after school (as at least one local private school does). Not sure why you dismiss it as "plug and play" and reject it out of hand.

So happy to continue the debate, if you would like, even given my "limitations" ;-)

Posted by Joan, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 23, 2007 at 4:51 pm


There is no particular reason to favor one language choice over another (they all have their champions). However, Latin has MANY advantages. It is a "dead" language in that it is not spoken today on a major level, but that is also an advantage, becasue it has not become burdened with exceptions to the rules.

See the following link for the many advantages that choosing Latin as a foreign language has:

Web Link

I see no merit in picking a single winner in the language game. The language of commerce, worldwide, is English. However, I do see merit in understanding the roots of our Latin-based languages.

Your thoughts?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Spanish is the obvious choice in California because it is the state's de facto second language. This trend is expected to only increase. It's also a relatively easy language to learn, which, I think, is an advantage in a one size fits all strategy.

Ohlone offers several languages afterschool. Demand was way up this year. I'm glad to have it, but at the same time I don't think it's really enough language instruction or frequent enough at one hour once-a-week. If there were a way to practice the language in-between, the way one does the piano, then I think it could work--i.e. maybe a better supported afterschool program with CDs, books, DVDs--in other words, some sort of language-lab possibility.

Ohlone offers Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Hebrew and Hindi--and, yeah, Spanish is, by far, the most popular.

The good thing about the program, as you can see, is that it offers lots of options--because it's not part of the bureaucracy, there's some flexibility--Hindi just came in. I suspect if someone wanted to push for ASL or Latin, that could happen. I think it does accurately reflect the demand at the school.

And, of course, there's always my own pet cause--summer immersion camp.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 23, 2007 at 5:53 pm


I suggest you start with the studies that the district and USEFL did in the mid-1990's that examined various aspects of foreign language instructions. Among the contributors to those reports were faculty members in the Education Departments at Stanford and SJ State, with expertise in foreign language instruction in primary and secondary schools.

There also are studies that have been conducted by other school districts around the country who have been dealing with this issue. My understanding of these is more anecdotal, but I believe it is fair to state that the conclusions reached also point to the types of benefits and value that the PAUSD studies did. On the flip side, I am not aware of evidence that suggests that language education in the primary school levels is detrimental, not worthwhile or even just neutral. I am a parent, not a professional in this area, so I can't provide a compendium of research to link you to. But the district does have material on this that I mentioned, and if you really are industrious, you can go over to Stanford and talk with some of the people involved in this in their day jobs.

I don't know what studies you are looking at, there is plenty of "pop" research out there that may make good ad copy for a program like Baby Einstein. The stuff I have grounded my thinking in is viewed as academically sound and empirically showing benefits of language instruction. The concerns you cite about methodology may apply to the stuff you are looking at, the things with which I am familiar are from educators and researchers for whom sound methodology is a critical aspect of the work they are researching publishing and teaching.

I don't have any first hand knowledge of studies that compare language instruction with music instruction or art instruction, but I don't understand why there is a tendency to lump those three together as if they are alternative options from a menu. I don't buy assertions that they are interchangeable as options for improving students learning and cognitive abilities, I have never seen anything that suggests such is the case, so I find it to be a non-starter to use that line of reasoning to call into question foreign language programs. If you have such information, I for one would like to know about it, and I am sure there are others in the community who also would be interested.

Whether it is a priority for the school district and what the priorities for PA schools will be after the next strategic planning cycle is an entirely different question. My expectation is that the work proudct coming out of the FLES task force will be used to inform the decisions about priorities for the district. I will be very disappointed if that work product is anything less than the highest of caliber, and from what I have read about the people working on it, I think the work product from them will be a good one. Armed with that information and information about other issues our district faces, we will see what our community and district leadership determine are the priorities for PAUSD in the coming years.

Quickly on plug and play--there is nothing wrong with plug and play, but it does not provide the same level of cognitive and other learning benefits which a program "baked into the pie" provides. That also is well researched and documented. It is mis-leading to suggest that the two alternatives provide comparable outcomes or benefits. It may be that this community is perfectly content with a plug and play approach, and those who wish to can opt in to that.

My own point of view is that a District that considers itself to be one of the top public school districts in the country has meets that best by incorporating FLES into our elementary school curriculum, and that plug and play is not an satisfactory alternative approach to the standards this district has for itself.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Paul, thanks for the long reply but I was disappointed that you were not able to link to any studies that support your point and merely repeated that it is "well researched and documented." While I cannot point to any studies that disprove your point, I think the burden is on those who claim this special over-arching benefit and lobby that money should be spent to obtain it.

I've seen plenty of bad studies (including several cited in the PAUSD's MI feasibility plan), so would appreciate a good one. I often find, as I'm sure you do, that when someone says "it's obvious" or "as everyone knows," it turns out it isn't true at all. So I am skeptical of your claim, I'm afraid. Since you have obviously read the studies and believe them, I would appreciate any help you can provide in finding them. I did not find any useful links Googling "USEFL" I'm afraid.

I didn't see any response on the point that while you support FLES, it was THE lowest priorities in the PAUSD's community survey just 18 months ago (11th out of 11 listed). This is significant to me. Even if it comes in higher this time, I would hope the district would proceed with caution, since this is clearly a new "need" and may fall off the radar as quickly as it came.

Finally, I respectfully reject your view that PAUSD, as an "elite" district, owes it to itself to provide FLES. I do think you put your finger right on why this fad is appealing - it is just "keeping up with the Joneses." But hopefully we are all wise enough that "keeping up with the Joneses" is not sufficient to drive our educational policy. Did you know that Wellesley, MA, one of the six towns profiled in the PiE Benchmarking Study, DROPPED all FLES in 2005? Interesting. So let's not follow fashion - let's use our heads instead.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 23, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Google Kathryn Lindholm or Kenji Hakuta. They are two of the academicians who worked on the effort in Palo Alto in the mid-1990's. Kenji is now at UC Merced, Kathryn's husband, Amado Padilla, was on the PAUSD Board at the time of that effort, and they all are involved in a great deal of work and research around language studies at the primary school age. The links below are a couple I found quickly on Google, and I am sure would provide a trail to a great deal of their work and research, which has continued since my involvement with them several years ago.

Web Link

Web Link

USEFL was a grass roots organization in Palo Alto that specifically worked on this for a while and then disbanded, so I am not surprised that you are not finding much if anything about that group. Kenji and Kathryn, along with myself and a few others, made up that group.

We are discussing FLES here, and while I support language immersion, and the Spanish Immersion program was another key aspect of what USEFL advocated for PAUSD a dozen years ago, associating issues around FLES with the analysis that was done around MI earlier this year is not really helpful in understanding what FLES's role could be in the district. Really different set of questions.

I honestly do not know very much about how the priorities were set last time. One hypothesis could lead to questioning the methodology used in that priority setting process, and whether it really was that rigorous. It could well be that this community still does not consider it to be a high priority, and that will be borne out in the upcoming strategic planning cycle. Or, it may be that it is viewed as a priority now, regardless of where it came out last time. I truly hope that it becomes a priority, but if it doesn't, I am certain that it will be thoroughly discussed and thought through, whether it ends up "on the reel" or on "the cutting floor."

Lots of people disagree with me that foreign language instruction is a critical component of what it takes for a world class public school district to prepare our children to lead and participate in the global society that they will experience in their lifetimes. Lots of people agree with me. I don't view it as doing it because others are doing it, but I know in my work life, understanding what similar organizations are doing--benchmarking is the consultant's term--can help make informed decisions about what's indicated here.

As for Wellesley--that is interesting. What were the factors that led to that decision? I suppose you could say Palo Alto did the same thing a few years ago, tried FLES and then dropped it, but it never was given a bona fide chance here. If Wellsley's reasons for discontinuing it run deeper, that would be instructive. But I agree with you that we should not follow fashion--whether it is in the home town to a prominent woman's college, or elsewhere.

Posted by It-Never-Ends, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2007 at 5:29 pm

> Lots of people disagree with me that foreign language instruction
> is a critical component of what it takes for a world class public
> school district to prepare our children to lead and participate
> in the global society that they will experience in their lifetimes.

And what, pray tell, is a "world class education"? Any candidates (name of country and the curricula that qualifies this public school system as "world class") for nomination?

Oh, and can you also link your answers to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) charts provided below?

GDP By Country:
Web Link)

Per Capita GDP:
Web Link

(By the way, the US is near the top of all of these charts.)

Posted by It-Never-Ends, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2007 at 6:20 pm

> Putting aside the "collateral benefits" - how useful is foreign
> language study for an English speaker?

A previous poster noted that Latin would the the choice. Latin is the root language for English (along with German), Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Latvian and Estonian. With a good Latin base, all of these languages can be understood linquistically, and historically.

It never hurts to learn German, since it is spoken in most of Europe. (If you're in Paris and didn't learn French, you can always get what you need by speaking German.)

As to the rest of the world's languages, they have nothing to do with English.

Posted by Prolingua, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2007 at 7:08 pm


How is GDP relevant to FLES in Palo Alto?

I hope that language will become a priority for the district, and I think Paul may be right that a well thought-out report from the task force could help make it one.

Picking language(s) will be difficult. Logistically, it would be easier on everyone if we had just one, but we're really not there yet.

(Just a few bits of information to clear the air. Much as I root for dead languages, Latin would hardly be "the choice" for a foreign language in PA schools. Neither Latin nor German are "root languages" of English; an understanding of Latin will not make French or Italian or Spanish comprehensible. Also, as a German speaker, I can tell you that relatively few people in France speak German. English is the language of choice now and has been since the early nineties.)

Posted by Member, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 24, 2007 at 8:12 pm

As a kid I lived in a mostly Italian area in Oakland. Kids spoke English. Parents and grandparents, all from Italy, spoke English. Should we teach a foregn language because many kids enter school not knowing English?

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 24, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Prolingua -- I thought both German and Latin *were* root languages of English. Aren't vast oceans English etymologies either Latin or Saxon derived? And doesn't much of what comes to us from the French, Italian or Spanish originate from the Latin, too?

Certainly, my five years of secondary school Latin (and five of french and one of German) serve me well as a writer of English every day.

On a fun, and not entirely irrelevant note, try the spelling/definition game at It's incredibly addictive and incredibly hard to get a score above 45 (out of 50) without knowing the latinate roots of English words. Some few of us might simply know the meanings of even the most obscure words that they throw at you, but a knowledge of Latin (and to a degree, Greek) lets you work it out nearly every time, even when you've never come across the word before.

This conversation has made me realize how much I value the Latin I have. I'm going to look into after-school Latin classes for my kids (and a refresher for me). Anyone know of any good ones locally?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2007 at 10:56 am

I agree with Simon - Latin was the best language study experience I've had, both in terms of enjoyment and later benefit. Also, interestingly, it met my college foreign language study requirement at the time.

Posted by Joan, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 25, 2007 at 11:24 am

"Latin has had a greater impact on our language and culture than any other foreign language.

Did you know that over 60 percent of modern English words are based on Latin? The fact that so much English is based on Latin has several benefits. Among others:

Most students have already done a lot of the work to learn Latin vocabulary; they did it when they learned English!

If a person has a good grasp of the Latin roots of modern English words, s/he enjoys an unparalleled advantage when it comes to accurate spelling, especially spelling of complex and less familiar words.

As a result of all the benefits listed above,

Latin study appears to yield a consistent and demonstrable gain in standardized college entrance exam scores in both the Verbal and Math spheres -- a gain that no other language seems to offer.

Verbal scores of Latin students on the SAT are, on average, anywhere from 25 to 30 points all the way up to over 60 to 80 points ahead of the verbal scores of students studying other foreign languages.

Is there a cause-and-effect relationship between Latin study and high scores on standardized tests? No one can prove it. But based on the testimony of those who have studied Latin, and their personal impressions about the kinds of analytic skills they have developed and the personal confidence they have acquired as a result of studying Latin, I am strongly inclined to agree with those who say that it is, indeed, the study of Latin that increases students' competency, not some innate competency in the students that leads them to choose Latin for their foreign language study."

The above is from:

Web Link

"Here you'll find some useful resources to help you to understand the Latin Language better. Latin is an ancient language that is officially adopted in only one country: Vatican. It has no native speakers. However, most of western countries had influence of this language due to the Roman Empire. So, by learning Latin you'll be able to understand many other languages, not only Latin derived languages like Spanish, French or Portuguese, but you'll also be surprised to know how many words from Latin exist in English, German and other. "

The above is from:

Web Link

Qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 25, 2007 at 11:52 am

The choice of language will in part be a function of what the targeted outcomes are for a primary school foreign language program.

For example, there is recent research which suggests that content based language instruction leads to higher levels of language acquisition and mastery compared with instruction that is more grammatical and structure oriented. I don't know this for a fact, but I would make an educated guess that there is a great deal more content-rich curriculum in languages that are commonly spoken today compared with languages that are no longer is general use. In contrast, a Latin curriculum likely more focused on structure, grammar, etymology, etc.

Not making a value judgment here one way or the other, merely trying to point out that it is important to have a clear understanding of the targeted outcomes before evaluating any particular language or form of language instruction.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 25, 2007 at 1:50 pm

The big advantage elementary-school kids have over older kids and adults is the ability to pick up spoken language. They're better able to mimic the sounds of a language and absorb it.

The advantages of Latin, from the sounds of it, make it a better choice for later school years. (Which, I think, is when it's been traditionally taught).

If you taught one of the Latin-based languages that is still spoken in the early grades, then familiarity with those languages should help, should it not? with later acquisition of Latin.

I've always heard, by the way, that a huge chunk of English comes from French, rather than Latin directly. Our grammar, however, is germanic. English is essentially a germanic language with a large latin vocabulary--which historically makes sense with its Anglo-Saxon peasants and Norman lords.

What I've always wondered about is why there wasn't greater fusion between Gaelic and English and French.

To me, the argument for Spanish isn't that kids speak Spanish, it's that we have a large adult population that does and we have a good chunk of a continent to the south that does. It's not actually not my first choice for my family, but I think if you have to pick one, Spanish is the most practical choice. Let's face it, at this point, a huge chunk of our blue-collar workforce speaks Spanish. There are big advantages to being able to communicate with people with whom most of us interact everyday.

I suspect it would also be the one where kids were most likely to gain some fluency. I mean, I've picked up some Spanish over the years just by living around here.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2007 at 2:21 pm

I do think OP's fair points about Spanish vs. Latin show some of not-quite-there underpinnings of "why we need FLES" reasoning (not that OP was arguing this). On the one hand, people point at the "shrinking world" and increased international trade - which of course, doesn't have a lot to do with Spanish. On the other hand, it would be handy to talk with our resident Spanish-speaking labor pool. In a recent NY Times column, they cited Fairfax County, VA (outside DC), saying they saw demand of foreign language fluency from local health care agencies who needed translators for non-English speaking populations.

While communicating to non-English speaking US residents is handy, it is probably not a good reason for to implement district-wide FLES; I've never seen that argued in fact. But it is probably the most practical benefit that would be gained. Mandarin, on the other hand, is "sexy" based on how big China now looms on our radar (just as Russian and then Japanese had spurts of popularity in decades past); but Mandarin speaking opportunities close to home would be limited.

In the end, I have trouble seeing why it is worth the effort as a district-wide initiative vs. the other things we would do with the time and money that would be required (ELL, achievement gap, Special Ed, character education, other enrichment). Like many other enrichment activities, it seems like a good choice for an after-school activity.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Hey Paul,
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I sense your frustration at not being able to provide all the links and research he demands, you just have to let go and trust that maybe someday he'll learn about Google. I wouldn't put more energy into it, I don't think I've ever seen him look anything up and concede a point or change his mind.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Ha ha, thanks Anon, I did say once that I didn't have time to read someone's long post, so you do have me there. ;-)

I apologize to Paul if it came across that I was "demanding" anything - of course not. Since Paul clearly was familiar research in question, I thought it would be great to be able to read it. Given the reference suggestions he did provide, I'm glad I asked - it would be pretty hard to find otherwise.

I think I've looked up and linked to a fair amount (including the link above to the Bregman report buried in the PAUSD archives), and I'll continue to do my best when I can. Hope you will do the same!

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 25, 2007 at 8:32 pm

I like people to make statements based upon their being informed about the issues before they provide their opinions. As one who weighs in in this forum on various issues on a regular basis, I attempt to adhere to this policy myself, and if I ever come across as unhappy with someone's comments, it largely stems from my perception that a point of view is being expressed that does not appear to have a solid foundation of understanding behind it.

Of course, my perceptions could be wrong from time to time, but I do attempt to provide information in my postings, along with my opinions. Some people may interpret that information differently than I do, and consequently reach conclusions different than mine. I really have no problem when that occurs, but I don't like it when people take a stand but also exhibit what comes across to me as little depth of appreciation for the matter being discussed. Bad combination that leads to a swift exit by the offending party from my office when it occurs at my business.

I seldom get feedback about what I post, but I do appreciate that the few times people have commented to me, they seem to appreciate the approach I take. Merely using my entire name is unusual in this forum, but I do try to maintain a civil, albeit assertive, discourse when I take upon myself to post on PA Online.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Paul, I must say your comments are always courteous and thoughtful, and often quite informative. You did bridle at my original post on this thread, and said I had a limited understand of the issue. That pushed my button, since this is an issue I've spent quite a bit of time researching and thinking about over the past few months, as I hope my subsequent posts have shown. You may understand more, and I could be dead wrong on this (it sure wouldn't be the first time), but I don't think it is for lack of trying.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 12:47 am

You've made quite a few long posts on this and other threads yourself. Whether you outright have said that you weren't reading someone else's post, or simply ignored points other people made as if not true until they provided evidence you could find yourself, you have come across as talking and expecting others to take your word but not listening and giving the same weight to the input of others. Your ;-)'s don't take the place of listening.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2007 at 2:46 am

Well Anon, you're entitled to your view. You are right, I did post long on this one, since Paul rang my bell with his comment on my "limited understanding" in reference to my first (brief) post. I generally try not to, since I assume many skip the over-long posts, as I sometimes do.

I think you are off on your point on expecting others to provide. I do provide a lot (I'd provide links to posts, but don't know how to ;-). Above, I said I thought there is an additional burden on Paul since he claims a big benefit for his position (FLES increases cognitive functioning) and moreover said is was "widely recognized." That also rang my bell, since I've looked for the research and read a bunch and didn't feel that point was supported. The first reference he gave ("USEFL") turned up nothing for me on Google, so I asked him if he could supply more. Seems fair.

So you are entitled to your view, but I think you're off-base on this one.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 11:16 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Well anyway - while the US has our school kids dabbling in foreign language (of debatable value), the rest of the world is kicking our butts in core subjects, including math, science and technology. Foreign language should be a hobby (after school - privately funded). In other words, if its important to you and your family then by all means GO FOR IT! Make your own tradeoffs that matter to YOUR family and YOUR agenda - but don't waste the time of all the kids in the city for this. Please. Lets stay focused. I couldn't agree more with the comment above about 'flavor of the month'. Its just a fad to try to stave off the charter school vultures.

Posted by different parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 12:37 pm

The US has school kids who are being completely overshadowed by outsiders when it comes to math, science and technology. Agreed. These outsiders are teaching English, perhaps another foreign language, as well as math science and technology. Why can't we do the same. I would like to see excellent language classes as well as excellent math and science. I don't see it as an either/or situation. Perhaps where the other countries are making the difference is in longer school days, longer school years and, oh yes, less emphasis on school sports (not p.e. classes). Perhaps if we made sure that sports were an after school, luxury, subject, we could get all the academics (including languages) done right.

The only thing that might suffer is the number of olympic medals and world championships obtained by our sports teams!!

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 26, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Just a few comments to add to the discussion – there is an excellent book on this topic that I'd recommend called "Language and Children: Making the Match" by Curtain and Dahlberg. The research in this book supports Paul's comments above about the value of learning a language on the cognitive flexibility of kids and idea of content-based learning as a more effective teaching tool.

As for choosing a language, the choice is often driven by which language may be easier to learn. Arabic and Mandarin happen to take much longer to learn than Spanish or French for English speakers. And while the district may want to offer many languages in the elementary grades that may not be practical. Studying any language is a good base for the kids when deciding which language to take in middle or high school – they don't have to continue in the same language.

The FLES team is tasked with studying the possible models and providing that data to inform the strategic planning process that will take place next Spring. At that time the community will decide if FLES (or FLEX) is right or not for PAUSD.

Posted by OTT, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 26, 2007 at 1:48 pm

"the rest of the world is kicking our butts in core subjects, including math, science and technology"

Kinda. Kids from certain countries outperform U.S. kids in math computation. We could get our kids to outperform them by enforcing more hours of mindless drilling. There is a cost: creative thought.

In terms of mathematical problem solving, the U.S. is still a leader. The mindless drilling would put an end to that.

Posted by esperanto esperanti, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Nov 26, 2007 at 10:58 pm

Latin is a good foundation for most modern European languages.
Spanish might be okay for grade schools, but Latin is better at the high school level, gives enlightenment to many European languages.
Interesting, colleges report that Arabic classes are burgeoning.
Could be something about modern understanding of threats to EuroAmerican culture?
HinduAsian languages have lots of merit for elementary education enhancement, since lots of HinduAsians have populated this area.
Know what, how can any of us locals choose what's best as a 2nd language to be taught in our local schools.
Picking one language over another is arbitrary at best.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 26, 2007 at 11:02 pm

You know, as long as I can remember people have been fussing about the U.S. losing its competitive edge in math and science. What I find particularly funny is that people of my generation who were going to school when schools were supposedly tanking ended up being extremely innovative in technology.

I think it's worth remembering when we compare math scores and the like that we're often comparing a wide range of American students to an elite--because in a lot of those countries, only the elite makes it through the upper levels of secondary education (let alone college).

We've been less inclined, historically, than other countries to separate the wheat from the chaff prior to college.

Back to languages--from what I've read, learning a second language does have cognitive advantages, particularly in kids. So, that's the big underlying thing. My feeling is, in addition, if we're going to have district-wide FLES, why not be practical about it? Knowing Spanish would be practical. I was in a store the other day and a guy asked a clerk for cerveza. The clerk didn't understand and asked if he wanted water. The guy said "Si" but looked confused. I spoke uup and said cerveza meant beer. As I've said, I don't speak Spanish, but I pick up stuff around here.

So even in Palo Alto, Spanish makes it a little easier.

However, I think FLES opponents do have a point and I realize Spanish isn't sexy--there's no snob appeal here. Personally, I'd rather see an expansion of afterschool language programs like Ohlone--so electives, but supplemented with language labs and materials--take-home DVDs would be great just for daily exposure and immersion courses in the summer.

There is a political issue here which is that the district needs FLES as a safeguard against further balkanization. If we'd had better language programs available, I think there would have been less demand for immersion. The whole language education became seen as an all-or-nothing issue.

I mean, if all kids learned Spanish as part of their normal curriculum how many people would really want the SI program with its undetermined effects on English literacy?

By the way, I came across a curious fact about Standard Mandarin. It's basically the Chinese equivalent of Esperanto--developed by some linguists about 100 years ago. As a result, it's not really anyone's first language. In China, it's taught in what's basically a FLES format--similar to Yew Cheung.

In other words, people who speak Standard Mandarin in China learned it in a format that our MI crowd says isn't enough for their kids . . . so just how is it that the Chinese have been learning it at all . . . .

I have to say realizing this gave me a good post-election laugh.

Posted by Get it Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2007 at 8:28 am

"a curious fact about Standard Mandarin. It's basically the Chinese equivalent of Esperanto--developed by some linguists about 100 years ago. As a result, it's not really anyone's first language. In China, it's taught in what's basically a FLES format"

Er, OP, you frequently peddle false information here, and this is more of it. I have to laugh: you're still at it.

Standard Mandarin is basically the dialect spoken in and around Beijing. It's not a constructed language. it's the first language for speakers of those dialects. Also, in China it is taught via immersion not FLES. History, math, etc. are taught in Mandarin. Since you put so much stock in the choice Chinese educators have made, I guess you'll support MI now. Great to have you on board!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 8:40 am

Interestingly, I saw a report last night about Dutch high school students rioting because of a new government ruling to make them spend more hours a day in school. This is not necessarily more instructional hours, but more study halls. It appears that the government realises that high schoolers need to spend more hours in school and less hours with time on their hands outside school. This way, the students can focus on homework without other distractions.

This is the way to increase learning, whereby the higher achievers can study and the lower achievers get help with their homework.

If other countries are focusing on spending more hours in school, and improving their overall education, why are we failing in math and sciences and pulling kids out of school early to go to sports games?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 27, 2007 at 10:11 am

A slightly longer school day would make sense for a lot of reasons.

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 27, 2007 at 11:39 am

By the way, if anyone is interested in what the PAUSD FLES team is up to, the minutes are posted on-line at Web Link and the meetings are open to the public.

Posted by Sounds good, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 27, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Ooh, glad someone brought up Mandarin. It would make great sense for most goals.

Since kids' minds, ears and mouths are good at picking up languages, it's a great time for them to learn one that is grammatically and phonetically so different from English. They can always learn German, French or Spanish later. Mandarin really fits this bill.

And from a practical standpoint, I heard it's the most widely spoken second language in this area. Obviously, it would also brings good economic prospects.

Let's try Mandarin!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 28, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Get it Right,

Do you have any external sources to support your assertion?

From what I read, Standard Mandarin is akin to, but not the basic dialect spoken around Beijing. And, according to the same Web site, it's not taught as immersion, but as a second language at many schools.

Web Link

Pertinent quotes:

At the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, there was no single, national language in China nor an education system that could teach the proper sounds of any of the languages. There were archaic dictionaries and a literary Chinese over a thousand years old that little resembled the spoken vernacular. The new government decided a national language (Guoyu) must be established and so it was decided by a group of scholars in 1913 that Mandarin be made the standard. A set of phonetic symbols were created (zhuyin fuhao) and a dictionary created called Guoyin zidian (Dictionary of National Phonics). However, this dictionary did not resemble Mandarin as it was spoken because it retained pronunciations of the Ru-sheng characters, so it was a mix of northern pronunciation with the rhymes of the southern languages. Not a single person could speak the language set down in this dictionary except Yuen Ren Chao (Zhao Yuanren), a native Wu speaker but skilled linguist and phonetician who is famous for developing the tone contour system used by linguists and doing much of the early dialect fieldwork. He is the one who made a set of recordings of this dictionary for use in schools. Nobody really could learn from this dictionary, and it wasn't until 1932 that a dictionary based on the pronunciation and speech of Beijing came about.


In many schools, classes are given in the local language and Mandarin is studied as the universal language (much like a foreign language class) to use for speaking with any non-locals.

Meanwhile, from the comprehensive Wikipedia article, we get this nugget:

In December 2004, the first survey of language use in the People's Republic of China revealed that only 53% of its population, about 700 million people, could communicate in Standard Mandarin. (China Daily) A survey by South China Morning Post released in September 2006 gave the same result.[citation needed] This 53% is defined as a passing grade above 3-B (ie. error rate lower than 40%) of Evaluation Exam. Another survey in 2003 by the China National Language And Character Working Committee (国家语言文字工作委员会) shows, if mastery of Standard Mandarin is defined as Grade 1-A (ie. error rate lower than 3%), the percentages as follows are: Beijing 90%, Shanghai 3%, Tianjin 25%, Guangzhou 0.5%, Dalian 10%, Xi'an 12%, Chengdu 1%, Nanjing 2%.[citation needed] Consequently, foreign learners of Mandarin usually opt to learn at Beijing, although grammar and character learning is not confined to that area.
So, what of the above is erroneous? And how do you know it's erroneous?

I have to say that when I read this it explained a lot--such as why only slightly more than half of China can communicate in Standard Mandarin. I have to say I was surprised at what constitutes a "passing grade"--40 percent error rate? That's the kind of rate that would make me trilingual--and, believe me, I'm not.

Looking at this, I actually think there's less point, by the way, in teaching Standard Mandarin to our kids--it's not going to become an international language. Why? Because it's too hard for adults to learn and a bunch of the country doesn't speak it. I mean 3 percent in Shanghai are truly fluent?

It's interesting, "Indonesian" is also a contrived language--a sort of formalized version of a Malay dialect. Unlike Standard Mandarin, most Indonesians learned and can speak in Indonesian.

But then, it's also an easy language to learn.

Now we have 300 million Chinese learning English. English, too, is relatively easy to learn.

So is China really finally going to all be speaking Standard Mandarin--or are they going to end up going the route of India, where English is everyone's second language?

English is already widely spoken in Hong Kong. It is the language of international trade and you can learn it as an adult.

Sounds good,

A very small percentage of Palo Alto speaks Chinese--don't actually know if it's standard Mandarin. The speakers I know speak the Hong Kong dialect.

In the county, the region, the state and the country, Spanish speakers far outstrip speakers of any of the Asian languages.

Like I say, the whole flat-earth argument becomes kind of amusing in a dark way when you start reading up on this.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Sounds Good

Where do you get your information that Mandarin is the most widely spoken second language around here. I feel sure that there are more Spanish speakers than Mandarin speakers. If the phrase second language implies that you are talking about a secondary language to the primary language of an individual, then I assume English would be the second language for anyone who speaks any other language.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 28, 2007 at 3:15 pm


I remember some sort of 2 percent figure for Palo Alto for Chinese speakers.

I'm now actually wondering which Chinese languages native speakers are actually speaking. I mean if you're a Cantonese speaker and your child's learned Cantonese, are you really a native speaker in Mandarin Standard? And given its lingua franca stance in China, how "native" is any native speaker? Yes, if you're from Beijing--sort of?

And who are our Chinese-only speakers? Are they young adults or senior citizens joining their kids?

I also think, the more I read about it, that immiegration from China will peak fairly soon for two reasons--one, China's economic boom. Why leave China when you can succeed at home? I actually ran into someone emigrating back to China several months ago because he thought there were better opportunities there. That was once unheard of. At the same time, you have an aging population--the one-child strategy means there's going to be a relatively smaller younger generation. They, too, will have jobs within China.

Japanese-Americans used to be our largest immigrant group from Asia, they're now in sixth place--in part because there is almost no emigration from Japan. Shrinking demographics mean there are jobs and opportunities within Japan, so there's no pressing reason to leave.

In other words, the reasons we're told our children will need Mandarin are really the reasons they won't.

Posted by Get it Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2007 at 8:42 am

"So, what of the above is erroneous?"

In detail:

"It's basically the Chinese equivalent of Esperanto--developed by some linguists about 100 years ago" Erroneous. There HAD BEEN no national language but about 100 years ago a group of people picked the dialect from Beijing and surrounds to be the national language. There HAD BEEN no consistent way to write current vernacular dialects (learning to read meant learning classical Chinese--a little similar to medieval European scholars having to learn latin), but a solution was found to represent Mandarin. To repeat: Mandarin was a pre-existing dialect spoken by actual flesh-and-blood humans, which was selected as the standard.

"As a result, it's not really anyone's first language." Erroneous. The people in and around Beijing speak it as a first language.

"In China, it's taught in what's basically a FLES format." Erroneous. This used to be true, but some years ago the government shifted to what you would call immersion: all classes (history, math, etc.) are taught in Mandarin. (I guess in your book this is an argument for immersion and against FLES, then.)

I have simplified this a little for brevity, though the actual linguistic picture is slightly more complicated. The website you cite is somewhat idiosyncratic and not always clear, so I can see where you went wrong. The Wikipedia entry has a clearer though more complicated explanation that cleaves to close to reality, if you are interested.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Get it Right,

Again, according to the source I cited, there are differences between the Beijing dialect and Mandarin Standard--there was an attempt at fusion, picking up some traits of other Chinese languages. Esperanto is also a fusion language--made up of different parts of European languages. In fact, I'll bet the Chinese nationals were influenced by the Esperanto movement in Europe.

But I'll grant that the situation is closer to that of Indonesian--with the key differece--Indonesian is easily learned by adults. Mandarin Standard, given the low rates of fluency in the south, apparently isn't. If the idea is to create a lingua franca--a trade language that everyone can speak as a second tongue--it's been an awkward choice.

The source I cited is from 2006. I know the government made announcements a couple of years earlier about doing everything in Mandarin, but it sounds like it didn't quite happen that way. I doubt things have changed dramatically in 12 months.

After all, if only 3 percent of the Shanghai population is fluent in Standard Mandarin, you have a staffing and education problem--it's not like Shanghai is a backwater filled with peasants. From the looks of it, a fairly low level of Standard Mandarin is required for most jobs. So, say you're in a backwater and the teachers don't really speak Mandarin Standard (they can kind of understand it when they hear it.) Do you fire all those teachers? Do you really think they're teaching in a language in which they're not fluent?

On a practical level, how could a national switch from FLES to immersion actually work when the fluency rates are so extremely low in southern parts of China? I think we're looking at something that's much more an ideal than a reality.

I think there's a general misconception about China among Americans--we think of it as a single entity like the United States; it's really more like Europe, despite the central government.

The shared written language is a double-edged sword. It gave somee unity and means of communication within China, but at this point, it's a kind of hindrance on one of the Chinese languages becoming a global one.

In other words, the more I read about it, the more I think English will stay the language of international business and it may well become the de facto second language of China. It just sounds like, for some reason, Mandarin Standard isn't easy enough--even within China. I wonder why, actually, I mean tonal languages do challenge a lot of adults, but there's a much higher level of perfect pitch within China than in other countries, so the tonal issue shouldn't be the hang-up that it is for adult speakers of non-tonal languages.

It sounds, too, that there is a fair amount of regional identity--there has to be, frankly, for that many languages and dialects to be flourishing. I think we're looking at more, not fewer, languages than in Europe. It seems to me that there's some strong cultural factors that make language unity in China more of a challenge than it would first appear.

In other words, for Americans, learning Mandarin Standard means learning an outsider language. You'll have more people understand you in China than you will if you speak English--but it's quite possible in places like Hong Kong that you'll have an easier time getting by in English than in Mandarin Standard.

Again, I keep comparing the situation to India. Just don't see why some of the same factors won't come into play, particularly now that there's such a huge push to learn English.

Posted by Get it Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2007 at 2:33 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

"Mandarin" refers to more than one thing: 1. The standard national language of China, 2. the dialects spoken in and around Beijing, 3. a wider group of dialects. Number one is based on number two and is nearly identical with it. There are a few differences, just as there are a few differences between the English your kid learns in English class and the English spoken around him or her. These differences do not mean that the English they learn in English class is a constructed language like Esperanto any more than Mandarin (sense 1) is.

(Indonesian is a different kettle of fish. Once you're out of Jakarta, you'll find most people speak a local "flavor" that relies on local vocabulary, etc.--not to be confused with their local dialect. The other difference is that bahasa has been used as the lingua franca in that area for centuries.)

"I know the government made announcements a couple of years earlier about doing everything in Mandarin, but it sounds like it didn't quite happen that way." Er, no, this goes back a decade. Go into a local school (Shanghai, Guangdong, where ever) and you'll find all the kids learning in Mandarin.

"In other words, the more I read about it, the more I think English will stay the language of international business" You're beating a straw dog. No one argued that Chinese would replace English.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 30, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Get It Right,

I've been using the term Mandarin Standard to distinguish what the Chinese government deems its official language.

The description given of the differences between Mandarin Standard and the Beijing dialect sound quite a bit more elaborate than the differences between the English spoken at home and at school. Even in Beijing, only 90 percent are fluent in Standard Mandarin. That sounds much more like a serious dialect difference--i.e. the difference between Scottish English and American English.

The site I mentioned points out that Mandarin Standard can be noncomprehensible to speakers of some of the Mandarin dialects (as opposed to Beijing). Again, this points to serious differences.

Standard Mandarin is a constructed language because, well, it is one. It was an adaptation of the Beijing dialect with some differences thrown in and other things cut out. It has a specific history and did not exist 100 years ago. It is similar to Indonesian--a language created out of existing languages to be a "national" one. Though unlike Indonesian, it wasn't a lingua franca.

As I've said, it explains a lot why it's not been better adapted.

You're making assertions that you haven't backed up with an outside source. I've cited two Web sites to back up what I've said and given a practical reason why, despite the government's intention, immersion Mandarin isn't practical in many parts of China--i.e. lack of fluency among the adults.

Why should I assume you're a better informant than a Web site in China? You clearly have a bias, so that weighs against you and you're denying something that's quite obvious, which is that Mandarin Standard was intentionally created started in 1911 and for which there was no dictionary until 1932.

Hmmm, by the way, here's a cool fact from Wikipedia:

" In China, there was talk in some circles after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution about officially replacing Chinese with Esperanto as a means to dramatically bring the country into the twentieth century, though this policy proved untenable. "

Hmmm, does that date, 1911, ring a bell with you? It should, that's the year that the creation of Standard Mandarin was initiated. I told you I thought Esperanto had influenced its creation. Looks like I was right.

As for Chinese replacing English--yes, that has been one of the various arguments for shoving in an MI program into a full school. It's the so-called flat-earth argument--i.e. China will become so mighty that we'll all have to speak Mandarin to compete in the global economy.

So I find, given that argument, China's own lack of linguistic unity interesting.

But, heck, it's hard to get 1 billion people on the same page.

Posted by get it Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2007 at 10:10 pm


I've simply supplied you with facts, yet you cling to these falsehoods. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Your central claim ("Standard Mandarin is a constructed language") is false, and all the conclusions you draw from it are false.

Relying on wacky websites for information is likely to lead you to mistaken "knowledge." Failing to read carefully will lead you to make erroneous conclusions [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm

Get it right,

No, you haven't supplied me with fact, you've supplied me with assertions without support. You've given me no reason to believe that you're an expert who's the last word on the subject.

If the Web site were truly "whacky", I think you would have said so earlier. Of course, I've also drawn from more than one Web site at this point--China's 1911 interest in Esperanto is, in fact, from Wiki's Esperanto page. I thought it was interesting, myself.

I've found that getting a single line on all of this difficult in part because propaganda's such a big factor here--I mean, the Chinese government announces that instruction will be in Mandarin, announcements will be in Mandarin . . .

And then you'll get studies which show huge chunks of the country don't speak Mandarin. You'll have sources like Wikipedia claiming large parts of the country speak Mandarin Standard fluently--then you'll look at the results of the 2004 study and find out someone with a 40 percent error rate was considered to be part of that 53 percent that can communicate in Mandarin. Propaganda or wishful thinking--it comes up over and over again when I read anything about China--I mean the "Great Wall" was sort of a western interpretation of a wall and a series of fortresses . . . a sort of mythology . . .

But, anyway, I'm not an expert--just someone who likes to poke around on the Internet. But, fact is, "Get it right", you don't come off as either an expert or someone who's at least a bit impartial. The language situation in China is clearly complex and the information given out heavily affected by political interests.

When you fail to acknowledge that both directly and indirectly (the tenor of your attacks on my character--at least the ones I've seen), you fail to persuade. Has it ever occurred to you that this is not an issue with a black-and-white answer? That "getting it right" is simplistic? Or that some of things you're certain about may not be 100 percent true?

Which would, oh, make it just about like any other historical and political issues.

Posted by Get It Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 2, 2007 at 10:36 pm


A fact remains true regardless of support--it just is. I supplied you with with some facts about Mandarin to help you see how you have misunderstood. I even pointed you to Wikipedia, where the main article on Mandarin seems pretty accurate. Relying on random wacky websites is not a reliable way to seek information. Ah, well....

Your approach to this topic is to attribute motive left and right (websites, China, me) and then make uninformed counter-assertions--a kind of propaganda in its own right.

For the record, the black-and-white facts that were mislaid:

*More than half the population of China speaks Mandarin.

*Way more than half understands Mandarin.

*Mandarin is taught via immersion in Chinese schools.

*Mandarin is not a constructed language.

*Mandarin is spoken as a native language by many people in and around Beijing.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2007 at 1:26 am

Get it Right,

Ummm, I cited Wikipedia before you did, so, no, I'm afraid your first assertion is wrong. But I'm glad you liked the referral.

According to China's own studies--cited in both the Wiki article and the article that upsets you, oh, and the NY Times--53 percent of China "can communicate" in Mandarin. However, the "can communicate" standard is low--it allows for an up to 40 percent error rate. Actual fluency outside of Beijing drops dramatically in some areas--it's in the low single digits in both Shanghai and Nanjing.

Those numbers are in the Wikipedia article.

You've provided no proof that Mandarin is taught via immersiona throughout China. I gave you a site in China that says otherwise--you don't agree, but you also don't back your assertions up.

It's amazing to me how totally lacking in skepticism you seem to be about China. This is a government that has historically fudged figures and hidden facts to make things look good. The so-called fluency in Mandarin is an obvious one; so are its measures of "literacy"--reading-only and a lower level of characters required by peasants than by office-workers. And then there's more dire stuff like AIDS and environmental damage.

We're not talking about a truly open society here--and yet you're certain that somehow in the past three years it's immersion Mandarin everywhere--even in places where only 2 percent of the population is truly fluent.

Given the fudged definitions of "fluency" and "literacy" we're getting from China, why are you so positive that "immersion" in China means what it means in Palo Alto? Maybe an hour a day seems like "immersion" in Nanjing--at least when it's filtered through a couple of press releases.

By the way, found a cite of an article on how Esperanto influenced Chinese language reform, unfortunately, it seems to have been written in Esperanto . . . and, wow, didn't know about those rather forceful attacks on written Chinese--there's definitely a large contingent who think ideograms have been a real deterrent.

I don't really expect you to agree with me, but a less defensive and more open approach would, I think, be to your benefit. Because you know something? I don't think you've done a survey on how Mandarin Standard is actually taught in China.

Posted by Fan of Ohlone Par, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2007 at 2:13 am

Get It Right,

You can not rely on information about China on the web.
The Chinese government controls much of this information.

I don't believe that the statistics and information given are correct from Wilkipedia.

Much of this is based on propaganda and misinformation.

The Chinese government does not even know how many of their people speak any specific dialect, since China is so large, and has many dialects.

This is something you learn after you live and travel in China, or anywhere in Asia for a long time.

You would probably not be able to understand this unless you live there for years, and have lots of local friends in these countries, and do a lot of traveling to the other provinces far outside of Beijing.

The government controls everything - the media, the statistics, and "the truth".

My husband is in Singapore right now, and I just called him. He is sitting with a group of 30 Chinese people. They all said that English is their first language. They said that they were all taught in English in primary school. Optional second languages are Mandarin, French, German, an Indian dialect, or Bahasa Malaysian. Now many of these people speak a different dialect of Chinese at home. Some learned Mandarin as their second language in school. Unless they are all lying to "save face", with my husband there (being the boss at this meeting), they are saying that English is their first language.

The different ethnic groups in Malaysia and Singapore attend separate schools.

It is hard to get correct information from communist governments, or any government that controls their media and press. By controlling their press, they can control the thought of their people.

There are 3 television stations in Malaysia. RTM 1, 2,and 3. One is the Islamic station which broadcasts in Bahasa Malaysian, the other (I think it is RTM 2) broadcasts in English in the late afternoon and evenings, and the third is only on the air in the afternoon and shows Chinese movies. The Chinese movies usually have 2 subtitles written in different dialects of Chinese (which never match up to the Chinese that is being spoken). The inconsistency of Chinese dialects? I never thought about this until the issue of MI came up.

Almost every educated person (in every state) in Malaysia speaks English.
Anyone who you would plan to do business with, or negotiate with, would speak English.
Hired household help speak English. My Indonesian gardener (in Malaysia) spoke English.

Although the governments of Malaysia and Singapore say that they now have free speech, there are still underlying fears of being imprisoned for sedition against the government. China too.

I would not hold them to their published statistics for demographics and language. They change them to make the data fit to be what they would like it to be. I actually completed a census report while I was living there, and was around when the results were posted. The local people just laughed because the results were so skewed.

English is the unifying language.

I do not believe in the push for FLES on the grounds that a language must be learned in elementary years, or else it will be hard to learn later. I learned to speak Spanish while in college. I then taught in Spanish in Los Angeles. I later learned a tonal Asian language when I was nearly 30. It was not difficult. It took me about a year before I perfected my tones. By 5 years, people did not know I was a Westerner if I spoke on the phone. I came back here with an accent which made my parents and friends laugh. Some people in Palo Alto asked me where I was born. Palo Alto is the answer.

You can learn any tonal language when you are an adult by going and working in the villages in China, Cambodia, Thailand (although I do not recommend going there to work).

People will want to speak English with you when they see you are a Westerner, because they know that Europeans speak English.

Selamat Datang - anyone from Malaysia or Singapore is welcome to correct me on this forum.

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 3, 2007 at 8:01 am

Fan of O,
Your personal experience is very interesting and adds perspective. Languages are, however, easier to learn younger. Research supports it although I won't list all the sources here. You may have a great ability to learn later but that's not the norm.

Also, learning young isn't the only benefit of a FLES-like program. The other cultural and cognitive benefits are substantial and perhaps worth our while.

Menlo Park hasn't fully fleshed out their program but they seem to have given it a lot of thought.

Posted by Don't get it wrong, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2007 at 9:31 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Fan of Ohlone Par, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2007 at 9:45 am

I think any questions about language could be answered by going to one of the many China expat blog sites and asking questions.

There are many international expats from all over the world who use these blog sites to communicate in China. Try to find people who have lived there continuously for at least 2 years in one of the provinces farthest away from Beijing. Some areas of China speak Russian, and the Islamic areas speak and write in another script.

Our children have studied Spanish since they were five because I home schooled them. They have lots of opportunities to use it, but loathe speaking it, and have no interest in the culture.

Interestingly, the (K-12) Western children attending International School overseas typically dislike the local language and customs. They study English in an American School setting at a price exceeding the tuition at Castilleja. Some Western students later study French, German, or Spanish in High School. Mandarin is offered, but is not a popular choice. Most of these International students reject the culture, food, and everything about the country they live in, because they are immersed in a foreign culture - they want everything Western. I never understood why this was. Most of these students would not eat the local food, which costs the families additional money. The families must buy imported food from Australia, Canada, and the US. The schools serve European food.

Milk and beef are difficult to buy because of the scarcity of cattle farms. These products, and any cheese is imported.

Almost 100% of the students in International School abroad are accepted into the top Universities back in their homelands. I think this is because their whole social life is around school, and there are not as many outside distractions like shopping malls, drugs, movie theaters. These distractions exist, but they do not want to mix with the local people for some reason. The students are really into school sports, and after school activities. The majority of these students (if not all), are from affluent families and diplomats, so this may also be a factor.

Maybe rebellion is part of it. A foreign language and culture are not glamorous and trendy once your family has accepted an overseas assignment.

Anyway, that is my perspective on living and working abroad for many years.

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 3, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Readers of this thread might be interested to read the current 'most emailed' article on the New York Times website, "A vote for Latin."

Here's the link:
Web Link

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2007 at 9:47 pm


Thank you for your perspective. It's a real-life take on what I've been reading online--including some scholarly papers at this point.

Don't Get It Wrong (hmmm, old name, same tricks?)

I mentioned AIDS because I have a friend who does AIDS research and enlightened me as to how the Chinese government has not fully admitted the problem. My point was not about dialect, but about the Chinese government's long history of concealment of undesirable truths.

I don't consider criticism of China's dictatorship to be anti-Chinese. But, you know something--I *do* prefer open governments that allow more than one party and some sort of representation.

Are you really trying to defend the Chinese governent? Are you really trying to say that there's no, er, adjustment of less-than-desirable truths?

Both Malaysia and Singapore have ethnic Chinese populations. I think part of FOP's point is that these Chinese did not speak a Chinese language as their first language even though they are in countries that trade with China (and are in Asia) and, presumably, came from families where a Chinese dialect is spoken.

In other words, it gets back to the point that Mandarin is not the next big global business language. Even in Asia.

So why are we dedicating space, time and money to it in the district? I mean from an educational standpoint, not a political one.


I still don't see Latin as a good choice for elementary FLES--it's not a spoken language so it wouldn't take advantage of that childhood knack for learning spoken languages.

I think there could and maybe should be a decent push for it from middle school on--it's certainly historically important and it does sound like the one language that will boost a SAT score.

Seriously, I hope that the district can be creative about languages--i.e. find ways to offer options and build on the existing afterschool programs. I mean, maybe we need to look at it the way we do at sports and music. Kids don't all play baseball and they don't all play the clarinet. The right language for my kid doesn't mean it's the right one for yours.

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 3, 2007 at 10:18 pm

OP -- I'm not seriously advocating for Latin FLES. I just wanted to share the NYT story -- and the information that it was among the most emailed NYT stories today.

While I'd never object to my children's teachers throwing in some Latin at the elementary level, I think your model is the more realistic and appropriate for a public school district.

I would like to see Latin offered as an elective in middle or high school here. From the Times article it seems that's a view shared by an increasing number of parents.

Much more important to me, though, is that we get really good, workable and widely supported FLES program up and running. I'm crossing my fingers that this is what the FLES committee will be able to point us toward.

Posted by Disgusted Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 11:05 am

US Teens Lag Behind in Science and Math:

Web Link

"The average scores for U.S. students were lower than the average scores for the group as a whole.

U.S. students also had an average science score that was lower than the average score in 16 other OECD countries. In math, U.S. students did even worse — posting an average score that was lower than the average in 23 of the other leading industrialized countries."

But thank goodness here in Palo Alto we've got our crack school district administration spending years on boutique foreign language programs. At least we've got our priorities straight on solving the foreign language fluency gap! Nothing like being a "lighthouse" district, out front in solving the education problems that will really make a difference.

Posted by not buying it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 11:28 am

Just a question - what's NOT easier to learn when you're young? Anyone who starts anything young is going to gain more fluency in that subject than if they wait and start later. The exact same holds true for just about anything you can think of.

This excuse about 'gotta start em young' sounds like a perfect argument why we should start an ice skating academy - give every kid 1 hour per day in ice skating lessons. Just THINK of all the great ice skaters we'll graduate.

"I can just see the day 12 years from now when we have our first class of fluent <ice skaters, or insert your favorite hobbee here> on the graduation podium. What a proud day that will be. If we can dream it, we can do it. blah blah blah" (Read the transcripts from some of the board meetings over the last 2 years - specifically note the comments from Townsend and Mitchell - if you want more of that line of reasoning..)

The questions still is - why should we all buy in to the same low priority hobbee? And why should the tax payers fund it?

If you still want to give your kids <ice skating> proficiency for whatever reason, you should go look up private lessons or <ice skating> schools, and if that's your family's fondest dream you'll have quite the little <ice skater> on your hands in 6-12 years.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Not buying it,

Lots of things are easier to learn when you're older--pretty much anything that takes analysis--algebra, English lit, history.

Languages though are a different kettle of fish--children have an ability to mimic sounds and absorb language in ways that we lose as we grow older. It's similar to the processes of learning to sing on pitch. Almost any kid can be taught to sing on pitch or speak a language without an accent. This isn't true of adults or even adolescents. Ironically, the window of opportunity shuts down right about when kids reach middle school--we'd be better off doing languages earlier and then cutting back on them in high school. Our timing of language instruction in this country makes it harder for kids to learn languages than it would otherwise be.

Once you can hear pitches and sing on pitch (or hear the sounds of a language and are able to mimic them) that doesn't mean you have to learn a specific instrument or have total fluency right away. I learned more than one instrument as an adult, but I learned to hear and repeat music as a child.

In other words, if we give our kids a strong introduction to a language early--so that they hear it and learn to mimic it when young--we, frankly, don't have to worry about creating early literacy in that language--with the exception of ideogram languages like the Chinese ones.

I can think of a couple of different 4/5 year olds who spent the summer overseas and picked up the local language. Both were living with relatives who spoke another language. Adults don't tend to pick up a language like that. We tend to need formal instruction, it takes us longer and we will retain an accent.

Re: your sports analogy. I think the head start can give kids an advantage, but having seen beginning kid skaters and beginning adult skaters--I actually think older kids have an easier time learning to skate than younger ones. They're stronger and have better balance. People start kids young because high-level skating takes years to develop, but five-year-olds don't have an intrinsic skating advantage over 11-year-olds. They, do, however, when it comes to mimicking languages.

Again, I don't think we need immersion for all--in fact, I think there needs to be more work on the effects of immersion on native-language skills. I do think there's a valid argument for early second-language instruction. I would like it to be more flexible than one-language-fits-all just because it's very polyglot around here.

Posted by not buying it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 12:42 pm

OP - you sort of missed the sarcasm in my post by my choosing ice skating as the example.

Really, who cares about ice skating proficiency beyond a very few? Maybe its a regional thing, but I'd say its nothing more than a hobbee, mildly entertaining on an occasional basis, certainly not something I'd consider 'useful'. Well, useful as a form of excercise, but there are plenty of other ways, less complicated and far less expensive, to get exercise.

Now substitute 'foreign language; in to the above statement instead of ice skating... and I ask why are we spending our time on foreign languages in our public schools? Who really ~cares~ if its 'easier' more effective, or whatever at a younger age. I don't dispute that to be true - I'm saying WHO CARES. Yes, a few DO CARE -so go get some private language classes then! Why drag the rest of us through this???? Its not an appropriate priority for our public schools with limited resources, limited time in the day, etc.

I don't get why a few people are so hell bent on cramming this down the entire school district's throat.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Not buying

I really think that we spend a lot of time teaching our kids music and art which is really useless in my opinion. I struggled with music because I cannot sing a note or even hear what is flat and what is not. I can't draw for toffee, stick figures are my best result and as for trying to paint a landscape, or a bowl of fruit? Forget it. I spent hours at school learning these things and they have been no use to me. I am told that art and music are wonderful for developing the child's abilities to do math and science. Poppycock in my opinion. It didn't help me. What did help me is the fact that I was forced to learn a language (in fact three languages) other than my own. I am in no way fluent in any of them, but the skills I learned were transferrable into understanding English grammar in a way I had never understood it before, and my overall English abilities.

I won't argue with those who think that art and music are important in the schools. My experience tells me that learning a language is more important than being fluent in a different language for all sorts of educational reasons.

Posted by Get It Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2007 at 2:29 pm


"Are you really trying to defend the Chinese governent..." More fallacious arguments based on webbed misinformation. You can bash China all you want, but it doesn't change the linguistic facts I mentioned above, the ones you got wrong. You would be much more persuasive if you got the facts right (and simply admitted when you got them wrong).

When you cite Singapore, it is a perfect example of ignorance leading to mistaken arguments. It is true that Singapore has many people who are ethnically Chinese, but the educational system is quite different--particularly regarding language--from China's. In this context, it is amusing when someone points to the language skills in one country as basis for concluding something about an entirely different country. It's like saying the Dutch speak English well, so the French must, too!

As for the "next big global business language," that is a straw dog. No one argues that. But when you go on to claim that Mandarin is not a major business language in Asia, you are dead wrong. Find someone who does business in the region and ask.

"So why are we dedicating space, time and money to it in the district?" That's the beauty of immersion: it won't cost anything. But I take it that you are asking a deeper question about the utility of learning Mandarin versus other languages. You should contact people who are lined up for the lottery for personal answers, but the most obvious ones have been mentioned many times: it is spoken by many people in the world and in this area, it provides a window into Asia, it is embedded in a rich culture, it is encoded in an writing system very different from English, it is grammatically and phonetically very different from English, it is a major business language and will become even more commercially important in the future, it is a strategically important language for our country, it is the heritage language for many of our neighbors, it has a rich literature, it is a diplomatically important language, etc.

In the end, though, what really matters is not whether you think it has utility. What matters is that many people in this area want their kids to learn it.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Not Buying it,

You're right, I did miss the sarcasm, but then I always wanted to ice skate . . . but, yes, you have a point and I think optional programs that don't take up valuable class space and budgets are preferable to the mess we have now--though I do find early language instruction valuable, but the MI debacle is a debacle in part because it superseded many, many agreed-upon priorities.


People really do differ--you hated two of the subjects that made school bearable for me . . . I actually use both art and music skills far more frequently than my math and science skills--very un-Silicon Valley of me . . .

Get It Right,

You're not paying attention. My point about Singapore wasn't about education, but about whether Mandarin Standard had a future as a lingua franca outside of China.

What makes you think I don't know people who do business in Asia? FOP's spouse clearly does and she gave her comments on it. So, I think we have a first-hand example of someone who disagrees with you.

Obviously, immersion costs something--thus the district's eagerness to accept a federal grant. It's already taking up 20 percent of the time of two teachers who have full-time teaching jobs.

It's the heritage language for many of our neighbors? Our neighbors, as a country, are Mexico and Canada. So, no, it's not the language of my neighbors. If we go by that measure, let's have immersion Hindi (one neighbor) and Spanish (another neighbor).

Sorry, you didn't give a compelling reason in the bunch--those are all arguments for private supplemental instruction.

But then you know that since PACE had to blackmail the board to get its way.

Oh, and by the way, where the hell is the program going in three years?

Posted by Get It Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2007 at 9:50 pm

"What makes you think I don't know people who do business in Asia?" Because of all the factual errors you keep making....

"FOP's spouse clearly does and she gave her comments on it. So, I think we have a first-hand example of someone who disagrees with you." Yes, exactly. Fop and her husband agree with your claims about dialect. This, as Fop says, is based on her husband's business trip to (wait for it...) Singapore. I would merely suggest that since Singapore is not China, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

"Obviously, immersion costs something" Obviously, but no more than a regular classroom would. It's cost neutral!

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2007 at 2:35 am

Got It Wrong,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

You claimed anyone who did business in that region (Asia) would tell me how important Mandarin is.

Singapore's in Asia. You made a claim about Asia and are now saying it was about China. That's silly given that the info's right in the thread. It's rather like your claiming to have referred me to the Wikipedia article on Mandarin Standard when I'd already quoted from it.

Now you're back to making the old claims. If MI classes don't cost more than normal classes than there was no reason to apply for a federal grant.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I think you're afraid to question the wisdom of Mandarin Immersion. I think you don't actually want to look to closely at what's actually going on in China and whether it jibes with the Chinese government's PR campaign.

By the way, I found one Web site that made an interesting argument regarding China's supposed literacy rate--instead of the 90 percent claimed by the Chinese government, this site argued real literacy in China was probably closer to 50 percent. Why? Because literacy in farmers only required the ability to read 1500 characters, while office workers were required to read 2000. So small reading vocabulary required. (Whereas among English speakers, our reading vocabulary is larger than our spoken vocabulary, in the case of the Chinese dialects, the reading vocabulary is smaller.)

Not tested at all--writing. For those of us with alphabetical languages, reading and writing advance at similar rates--writing a bit behind reading. This isn't true of a symbolic language with characters requiring multiple brush strokes.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

By the way, most Palo Altans don't speak Mandarin, the people who live near me don't speak Mandarin. That doesn't preclude there being people who do so in my neighborhood school catchment area, but not where I live.

Posted by Got It Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2007 at 12:04 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by They wll find out, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2007 at 5:45 pm

"Board members and some parents in the audience, however, pointed to the difficult transition that lies ahead. For the first several years of the language program, children will enter Hillview Middle School at differing skill levels until Spanish is taught starting in kindergarten."

Forty minutes a week...more like two 20 minutes (more like 15 minutes with class transition) blocks of Spanish a week....will not make fluent Spanish speakers not even ones that can pass Spanish I.....PLEASE! I applaud MP for trying something new and for appearing innovative; however, I have experienced Spanish twice a week with my child's school for four years. The parents do not have to worry about the differing skill levels....not much is retained on that type of schedule. On the other hand, I have seen children in a Spanish immersion program taught Math and Science every day in Spanish move into 5th grade at an advanced level.

Nice try....but they will see the results in the end are not what they were looking for, unfortunately.

Posted by an adult, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 10:55 am

Post above takes us full is about what the GOAL of foreign language instruction in elementary school is.

1) Fluency by 6th grade


2) ABILITY to become fluent by adulthood for those who want to do so.

I want the same goal for FL as we have in all other areas..the ABILITY to become expert enough by 12th grade to move onward if s/he chooses. Heck, there is NO REASON a kid couldn't be fluent by 12th grade if exposure started in elementary school and was supported by summertime immersion ( 4 hours per day) experiences for 4 weeks.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 11:18 am

Well said, TriLing. What you describe sounds like a good candidate for a voluntary after school program (with a voluntary summer add-on), for parents and students who would like this kind of enrichment.

The elite colleges don't ask for more than we offer now, nor do the vast majority of careers. I am not opposed to language instruction (not clear who would be); but language enrichment seems like a lower priority than many other things our district needs to focus money and energy on. Let those who have passion for it seek it out, without adding to the challenges we already have.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2007 at 4:47 pm

I'm with Terry and TriLing, having the option to become fluent is a much better goal than fluency by sixth grade. I think there's a big unanswered question about what happens to the development of a child's skills in English to ever make foreign-language immersion programs more than a boutique option. A second language is nice, but not at the expense of expertise in English. (And before you pro-immersion types come out, you can find a study that assesses the longterm effects on English composition. I haven't found one and I've looked more than once.)

Most people around the world who learn English don't do so in an immersion setting. Europeans learn English as a subject--and I've met plenty of Europeans who speak English well.

So instead of inventing the wheel, I hope the FLES crew really looks at the different approaches in countries that teach second languages as a matter of course.

Posted by Septolingual, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2007 at 5:18 pm


Neither FLES nor FLEX aim for fluency, so option one is off the table (no one is suggesting converting the entire district to immersion). The question is what priority we as a community assign to elementary language instruction.

I would like to know if there is a cost differential to FLES and FLEX. I would also like to know what outcomes the committee would expect for these kids. I sure don't want to see the district pay through the nose for an expensive program that makes everyone feel good (listen to Johnny count to ten in Spanish!) but has little lasting benefit.

I am particularly eager for any elementary program to tie into middle and high schools to maximize any efforts expended by kids. Why study, say, German in elementary if it's not offered in middle school? Sure there's some benefit, but it would increase the benefit if kids could carry on with the language they started in. In fact, they ought to have a head-start. If Joanny studied Spanish all through elementary, then she should be well ahead of kids switching to Spanish in sixth grade.

For those who like the "European approach," we will have to see if Americans are willing to live without options. Generally in western Europe, English is the mandatory first foreign language, and kids have limited choices for the third language. And they cannot just switch from language to language. You may want to start French in eighth grade, but the other kids have been studying it for, say, four years (on top of English), so you're out of luck. It's based on the concept of competency, not on feel good pseudo-egalitarianism and wishy-washy notions of self-esteem. Are we ready for that?

And no, there is no unanswered question about what happens to a child's English skills in immersion programs: immersion kids get better at English than the kids who are not in immersion.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2007 at 12:02 am


Actually, they don't. What we get are studies that say that kids in immersion programs have lower English reading comp. scores than their non-immersion peers around second/third grade and that they then catch up by fifth.

What we don't see are A) studies that measure writing skills and B) Longterm studies.

Like I've said, I've looked more than once. Certainly, no one on the pro-immersion side has ever come up with anything that addresses the specific issue of writing skills. Some of the former SI parents in the forum have said specifically that that their children's comp. skills suffered as a result of the SI program.

There's also a profound illogic to the proposition that somehow one writes better English by writing in French or Mandarin. Kids don't write essays in their free time as a matter of course, whereas they do read and talk.

That said, yes, let's have some sort of continuation--more of the insanity of MI, of course--there's not supposed to be a continuation program in middle school. Yeah, right.

Posted by Fan of Ohlone Par, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2007 at 1:08 am

I was wondering if anyone on this forum did a search under "China Expat Blog" yet?

There are people who use this in China who are from all over the world. If you ask questions on these threads, you will get all kinds of answers.

Wikipedia used to be blocked in China, I am not sure if it is available again.

It is a control issue. You will also see issues about The Confucius Institute, which is a very wealthy organization, linked to Hanban, and the Worldwide launch of Mandarin. They have many offices in the United States to promote and fund Mandarin programs. This is the Ministry of Education of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC)

The people on these blog sites will love to tell you about their experiences teaching and working in China. Look for some of the postings from long time expatriates, and then ask questions.

Additionally, you may start your own thread and ask specifically about Mandarin Standard, fluency in the provinces outside Beijing, what it is like to work in China, etc.

You can ask them if they were fluent in Mandarin when they got there or are learning it while they are there, etc.

The interesting thing that you will notice about these sites is that people from all over the world and blogging in English.

Something to think about.

Posted by Trilingual American, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 7:16 am

I suspect what Septo is referring to is that kids who come from families where English is not the primary language do better in DUAL-immersion programs in English by High School than kids from non-English households who go to typical school.

This research is based on the value of Spanish-English bilingual immersion, and is, of course, fraught with self-selection variables ( meaning the families who choose to go the extra mile that a Spanish-English program requires of the parents over the parents who don't choose it)

This has been the basis of argument for helping the at-risk kids since the beginning of the whole Spanish-English dual immersion stuff began over 15 years ago.

The primary point being that since these kids generally came from uneducated parents with poor Spanish skills and virtually no books/reading to the kids, teaching these kids GOOD Spanish early on allowed an easy transfer of skills to English.

There is basis for this, and kids,for whatever reason, HAVE done better from these programs.

However, it will be interesting over time to see the difference in various dual-immersion language programs as the population of native speakers changes.

Posted by Septolingual, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2007 at 7:42 am

"I suspect what Septo is referring to is that kids who come from families where English is not the primary language do better in DUAL-immersion programs in English by High School than kids from non-English households who go to typical school."

No, I'm pointing out that all the research shows that kids in dual immersion programs (both target and local language) end up with better local language skills than non-immersion peers. Here in the U.S., this means for instance that both native English speakers and native Spanish speakers will both emerge from a Spanish immersion program with better English skills than peers in an English-only program.

Posted by tri, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 10:01 am

This is true, Septo, with a nominal difference that may strictly be a function of the type of very educated English Speaking family that CHOOSES a dual-immersion model for their kids,..the difference is larger for kids in the Spanish speaking families...which again may be a function of many more things than the actual program..the same kind of variablesthat make the difference between 2 kids who go to the same school with the same smarts..and one gets all As and the other fails.

I am not dissing dual-immersions, I think they are great, but the research is not good for using anything OTHER THAN the foreign language skills of the English speakers for knowing how effective the program is. That is the only variable that can be controlled.

So, I submit that saying dual immersions help in English acquisition is a dubious thesis, and it is better to promote the testable results, which is the foreign language skills of the English speakers,which brings us back to the question of the purpose of a public education, and the goals of foreign language acquisition in our schools..

Posted by Septo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2007 at 11:32 am

Tri, I don't want to hijack this thread, which is about FLES and FLEX.

I'll just say that I agree with you that the greatest benefit to immersion is the acquisition of a second language. Sure, the real world is messy and you'll never have "evidence" of the sort you're looking for in education--for any program--because you can't control for everything; that said, the testing evidence is quite strong that dual immersion gives a strong boost to local language skills (for both native and non-native speakers) beyond what mono-lingual kids achieve.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 9, 2007 at 1:28 pm

These forums have a tendency to get off topic, which is both a blessing and a curse. A great deal of opining is being offered around immersion models, and the impact they have on various aspects of English, specifically reading comprehension and written composition. I will admit to incomplete recollection around the impact of immersion on comprehension and composition from when I was involved in the USEFL task force around foreign language instruction in PAUSD a dozen years ago. But, here is what I think matters about that topic, and more importantly about the FLES question which is what is being thought through at this time:

1. Impact of immersion on acquisition of reading and composition skills in English: What I do recall about this is that the acquisition of such skills develops differently during the elementary grades, but as the children in immersion are gradually taught increasingly in both English and the immersion langauge in the later grades, the gap narrows or closes. Same destination, different journey, if you will.

OhloneParent frequently raises good questions, but I want to turn OP's question around and ask if he/she has evidence that these skills are measurably compromised as a result of a child being in an immersion program with a parallel curriculum? I do think that if we on USEFL had found information that suggested that the skills in question were noticeably less developed for immersion children, that would have been a huge red flag and something I would have remembered. It is fine to ask such a question, but lacking evidence one way or another proves nothing one way or another.

This is more of a movie than a snapshot matter. The most important outcomes are not at 3rd grade or even 7th, but by the time they finish high school. We now have some kids who have finished at PALY and Gunn now who started in SI--it would be informative to learn how those kids compared to a "control group" in terms of their reading comprehension and written composition English skills. One could argue that unless the differences are significant, slight differences (assuming the non-immersion kids "test" higher) may be viewed by some as acceptable given the benefit of learning another language in the manner being offered. That's personal choice. If a parent is concerned about that hypothetical risk, don't put the kid in immersion. For those who see the benefits exceeding the hypothetical downside risk, it is there for them to apply for.

2. Impact of FLES on written composition and reading comprehension: All the research that I have seen that is viewed as pedagocically sound points to improved cognitive skills for children in the United States who receive foreign language instruction at the elementary level, and other learning abilities are not compromised when the curriculum is developed and implemented appropriately, as occurs in many places around the country. This clearly suggests that a FLES program presents PAUSD students with another tool and skill set that will help them to do even better in their reading and comprehension. Again, I have seen no evidence or research that suggests these important English skills are in any way compromised in a FLES type curriculum. Fine to ask the question, but quite another thing to say, well, without my question being asnwered, I will assume that these things are being compromised. Especially when there is so much data that points to exactly the opposite.

And may I also suggest that people who are viewing FLES as merely an enrichment program are working from a misunderstanding of what FLES is all about. We are talking about possibly modifying an already fine curriculum that could potentially be strengthened even more with the addition of foregn language instruction at the elementary levels. One that has shown to increase cognitive abilities for students overall who receive such instruction, and provides them a much better opportunity to achieve proficiency (not fluency) in another language should they choose to pursue it in the middle and high school years. I do not believe there are any other comprehensive curriculum opportunities--including art, music, and physical education--which have a body of research behind them to back up this benefit. That is a big difference to my way of thinking between what may be viewed or not viewed as "enrichment" vs. something more fundamental, which is how I believe language instruction should be viewed.

FLES does come at a cost, financially, should the District decide to make it a priority in the next strategic plan. There may be other options that the community and ultimately the BoE determine merit higher priority than foreign language instruction at the elementary schools which will benefit all our students in those grades. I do hope the other matters which are being considered as possible priorities are getting the same srutiny as this topic is. Our community and board will be able to make very well informed decisions if that is the case.

Posted by perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 4:29 pm

As Paul wrote, and with which few can disagree..."All the research that I have seen that is viewed as pedagocically sound points to improved cognitive skills for children in the United States who receive foreign language instruction at the elementary level, and other learning abilities are not compromised when the curriculum is developed and implemented appropriately, as occurs in many places around the country. This clearly suggests that a FLES program presents PAUSD students with another tool and skill set that will help them to do even better in their reading and comprehension"

Again, as we say repeatedly..implementing another program at the cost of which one?

There is little to argue with about whether or not immersion or FLES is good. The point has always the cost of what in the day?

Not sure where the FLES committee is on their work...anyone know?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 7:32 pm

Paul, it surely isn't your job to supply bibliography, but when you refer to all this research - can you provide references or links to any? I have not had any luck on the couple of names you mentioned before. It seems like this research is the core of many people's faith in FLES- it would be good to read it.

I don't doubt that spending time studying most things (writing, reading, art, music, logic, math, etc) improves cognitive skills, so it is not surprising that studying language does does. I hope it doesn't seem sarcastic, but if spending time studying foreign language improves English reading and composition skills, imagine what spending more time on reading and composition will do.

Unless FLES is indeed the "super-subject," the ones that makes all others better, then it is "just" enrichment. It is not a bad thing, but it another subject (one which Paul happens to like, but we all have our favorites) that will take away from the others. And I would argue that it would be better to let those who passionately want it to seek it outside the core curriculum and focus our school's energies on things that are core.

For example, at my daughter's elementary school this year, the ERB results for a significant majority of fifth graders were HORRID (below 50th percentile for the state) - the fifth grade teachers are still trying to figure out what happened and what to do. In my view, these kids would benefit much more from additional time spent on developing writing skills than conversational Spanish.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 7:35 pm

For a FLES Committee update:

has posted a newsletter article about the options it is considering, and
seeks comments from parents & staff. To learn more about this committee, go to Web Link
On that page, click "FLES Newsletter Article" to read the article.
Comments Deadline: Tue, Dec 11

Posted by Brit, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Web Link

It may be of interest to you that the above link shows that the British government are about to completely review their primary (elementary) curriculum and include a requirement for all children to learn a foreign language.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 9, 2007 at 8:37 pm


I suggested two Google searches and links a number of days ago to you, at your request, on this very thread. Kenji Hakuda and Kathryn Lindholm. Scroll up and find them, please, I did it as a courtesy to you.

You can choose to define enrichment however you see fit, but where I part company with your choice of definition is what the outcomes of benefits mean by subject matter. If a subject matter yields different results versus with others to which it is compared, it either is in a different category or there is something else not quite right with the definition. Placing something into a category inappropriately does not legitimize putting it there and then suggesting that there is some sort of level playing field of trade offs is a sleight of hand, IMHO.

Language instruction at this age level is considered core among many school districts and educators. Reasonable people can disagree whether or not to consider it as such, as it appears we do in this case. I do not understand your comment about how language instruction takes away from other subjects--I don't believe I suggested anything of that sort, and I am curious to know what gives rise to your making such an assertion.

I do not want to diminish the importance of making sure the existing basics are being taught effectively and successfully, and I think if you read my comments about this matter in the last year or more, you will find that I am consistent in that position. I am the last one in the world to suggest that something in addition to what we have now be introduced if what we have now is not passing muster.

What you describe as a recent experience with your daughter's class is very disturbing. As you indicate, the teachers are trying to understand just what is behind it, and it would be premature to suggest that more of anything will solve the as yet understood problem, if indeed it is a problem. If the results you describe are pointing comprehensivly to a more fundamental problem, we have a great deal more to worry about in this District than I think most of us perceive to be the case. I hope what you describe is an anomoly, it certainly runs counter to the types of results our students have had in the time that I have had children in the District and followed these things.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2007 at 8:54 pm

I will give my list of a few items that could easily be replaced by the enrichment of foreign language teaching.

Halloween Parties and Parades
Field trips, in particular to pumpkin patches and quilt museums (some field trips are a good idea, but some have little or no educational value)
Star of the Week (or some such) beyond kindergarten
Show and Tell, beyond kindergarten
assemblies with little educational value
busy work (coloring) beyond 2nd grade
movies in the classroom (unless they are educational or have some connection to literature being studied)
making mission models

I am sure others can think of other ideas, these are just out of the top of my head.

Posted by Been there..., a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2007 at 7:27 am

Parent: Apparently you believe that at least 20 minutes per day is wasted on such things as you mentioned...I will agree there is wasted time in the classroom. Like, for example, having teachers take down the lunch order of each kid...

But, most of what you mention has benefits into other areas of development and academics that are not measurable - Have you had a kid benefit from any of the above? I used to think like you, until I saw the benefits to my own child that went beyond a "grade" in a subject...sort of like the spill over effect of foreign language on English acquisition.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2007 at 8:45 am

Been there

Now you get my point. There are many things that go on in the classroom that are under the heading of being beneficial and help to develop the academics of a child that are not measurable. My point is that yes, these are part of a well rounded classroom experience and certainly make the day to day memories of the school experience. But, so is foreign language. The idea of a child being able to watch the latest Disney movie as a "marble party prize" or being able to sing Frere Jacques, count to ten in Spanish, or ask someone "Parlez vous anglais" are of equal value. To say that introductory skills in a foreign language are a waste of time, a luxury for after school, or no real use unless they are immersed in a language is equally closed minded.

We should look on elementary education as giving a wide scope of experiences. The questionable values of some of the non-core academics being delivered in our classrooms each day are exactly the same as the list above or foreign language. The pride a child may have in being able to recite a foreign poem and know what it means in English is equally valid as the child who comes home as having given his star of the week presentation in front of the whole class.

We just need to develop our list of priorities. If we can find time in the classroom for Halloween parades and Valentines parties, then we can find time for language.

Posted by RNZ, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2007 at 8:55 am


"if spending time studying foreign language improves English reading and composition skills, imagine what spending more time on reading and composition will do."

No reason to think that more time on reading and composition will improve those skills. Spending more time on more narrowly defined tasks is called drill and kill. It doesn't produce the results you want but it does kill individual enthusiasm and creativity. (Education is not zero sum.)

You can see this in action because nclb pushes failing schools in this direction: put your kid into a failing school in Watsonville, and you'll get oodles of content-free reading and composition and math. Nothing else, though.

Posted by been there, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2007 at 12:26 pm

parent, 2 things

1) your assumption that Halloween parades and Valentine's parties in elementary school are lower priority than foreign language are arguable. This is certainly your opinion, but not mine.

2) Your assumption that there are enough of these Halloween and Valentine moments to eradicate to bring in 20 minutes per day for FL is also arguable.

As for my "getting your point" about non-measurable..actually, no, I was making the point that being unmeasurable in value merely makes it a discussion of opinion concerning value, not fact concerning value.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Man, it gets busy around here. Am I the only one whose free time has been overtaken by shopping online and off?

Paul, the anecdotal evidence I've seen here indicates that, yes, that English-comp. skills are compromised. Comparable in-district elementary test scores indicate that the immersion kids lag behind their peers.

But do I have the info. you're looking for? No, of course not, because those are exactly the studies that don't exist. The ones about which I'm complaining. It's a weird gap, frankly. The only one that comes to mind is that immersion works best when the parents are highly fluent in one of the two languages. MI would be a bad choice for kids with Spanish-speaking parents.

Oh, one other reason I'm suspicious--UC Berkeley gets top students. It also has a very high percentage of kids come from ESL families. It's not coincidental that Berkeley has had to expand its remedial English program and that the percentage of kids entering it keeps going up. These are smart kids--if bilingualism is such a plus in English, there shouldn't be a greater and greater need for remedial English.

It says, something, frankly, about how badly we're teaching English. After all, these kids probably got As in English all through school.

I don't see, by the way, these issues with FLES--in a FLES program, kids are still learning critical skills in English.


Food and cooking seem to be big hooks in Ohlone's after-school language programs . . . bring on the gateaux, dim sum, sushi and arroz! Seriously, though, I'm all for cooking in the lower grades--following instructions, measurements, fractions. They're better than story problems.

I don't think an afterschool program need be considered a luxury. And it does have the advantage of offering more choice at a lower cost. I just wish there were more of it--language labs as part of free choice time or whatever.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Paul, thanks for those searches, which I did look up when you first suggested. The second (Kenji Hakuda) does not turn up anything that seems related - is the spelling right? The first (Kathryn Lindholm Leary) turns up a ton, so I was hoping you might point at one or two that were on point, since she seems to have spent her career writing on language education. TThe work on her web site seems to be on "dual language immersion," with some ELL, and bi-lingualism as well, which are not what I believe is on the table with our PAUSD FLES. If you are familiar with which research is specifically related to what I guess might be called "exposure programs" (an hour or two a week), that would be great. If I am misinterpretting her work looking at the titles, I apologize in advance. I do think there is a lot of room for confusion, and we all need to take care about applying findings for one type of program (immersion) to a different type (exposure). For anyone interested, here is her web site: Web Link

As others pointed out above, FLES subtracts from other subjects already in the curriculum simply because it uses time in the day. Add FLES, need to take out something else. As most elementary teachers will tell you, they feel their days are very full and curriculum plate fully loaded.

RNZ - I think that the teachers will come up with better than "drill and kill" if given the extra hour a week for writing. If you asked a random PA elementary teacher if s/he had ideas for that hour, I bet you'd hear some good ones - like more individualized attention in writer's workshop. So is one way to think about FLES that it is writer's workshop vs. Spanish exposure? Do I have this wrong?

As Paul points out, it is hard to tell from my kid's one troubling data point if there is a serious problem with PA (or my local school's) writing or not. But maybe this is part of why people see things differently. At Walter Hays, say, they may feel they have everything well in hand, kids performing uniformly great - so why not add FLES. In the Barron Park area, where my kids attend, I can assure you it is not the case - there are plenty of academic challenges to work on. So adding FLES seems out of place to me.

Hence my suggestion - make it available after school to those who seek it as an enrichment. It may well be appropriate for some kids, and if so, more power to them. But for the district as a whole, let's focus, relentlessly, on success at the core.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2007 at 8:12 pm

Then make the cooking and Halloween parades, after school programs.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2007 at 12:04 pm

"Paul, the anecdotal evidence I've seen here indicates that, yes, that English-comp. skills are compromised." Anecdote is irrelevant: after all, Johnny could have turned out to be an even worse writer if he hadn't been in Spanish immersion. What counts is academic research, of which there is quite a lot, starting in Canada in the 1970s.

All the studies I have seen--and I have seen a bunch--show non-immersion kids lag immersion kids in English (or the local language in other contexts) by 4th or 5th grade. Three is no evidence for the reverse.

"if bilingualism is such a plus in English, there shouldn't be a greater and greater need for remedial English." You've made two logical errors here. First, you've confused terminology. Bilingual refers to people who speak two languages. Dual immersion is an educational approach aimed at making kids bilingual and biliterate. Two different things. (The only way this Berkeley info can inform this discussion is if you can give us data showing that a disproportionate number of immersion kids end up in remedial English. Improbable.) Second, you've assumed without any basis that remedial English is filled with bilingual kids. It might be the case that it's actually the monolingual kids who are disproportionately represented.

The evidence--the statistical evidence--is quite clear: immersion programs deliver better English skills, better math skills, and other cognitive benefits.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2007 at 6:06 pm

That may be true, Ricky, though of course the research needs to be carefully reviewed. There is a lot of weak methodology out there, in terms of no control groups, self-selecting samples, Hawthorne effect, etc. Could you suggest any specific studies to look at that you think are compelling?

What about FLEX/FLES, which of course what is currently on the docket for PAUSD? Is anyone aware of good impact/outcome studies on those type of programs?

Posted by Well said, Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Terry, you sound like you "get it". If you don't have a background in the problems of research, you can't understand the vast problems with many of the supposed educational research data. THIS is what we all keep going around and around about. There are those who are going to keep saying repeatedly "Immersion kids do better in x, y, z than their peers" and repeatedly ignore the fact that bilingual immersion kids automatically come from families which would help them do better in school regardless of what the program was.

Not to mention many other problems with the "research". A lot of these arguments don't fly here because we ARE such a well educated group of parents. We can't be snowed as easily.

Looks like we have a smart Super, too, who can't be snowed and hasn't any agenda other than equal opportunity for EVERY kid to reach his max potential in our schools. I suspect we have turned a corner.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2007 at 11:02 pm

It's been four years since I dug through all that info, Terry, but you were on the right track with Lindholm Leary. She's done a bunch of published, peer-reviewed studies (I think some of them were even on her website), and her bibliographical references take you to other studies going back to the 70s, as I recall.

More to the point, I haven't read anything on FLES/X, but I am interested to read up on it if you come across relevant data.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2007 at 9:09 pm

I offered a couple of links on Kathryn and Kenji that popped up when I googled their names. They both have national reputations around foreign language instruction, and I am sure that if Terry or anyone else wants to learn more, starting with their names will lead to a wealth of information. As I said before, this stuff is not my day job, I have been involved in this as an engaged parent and member of the community for a number of years, but it is unrealistic to expect me to be able to provide a clear navigable path on all the research around this subject. I do feel comfortable making the comments I do based on the research to which I have been exposed, it is by no means the only research out there, but I think it is representative of the general findings around this topic.

OP--again, this is not an immersion thread, but I had a very difficult time following your logic. I will say again that in the early grade levels, kids in immersion are commonly found to not be as strong in English composition and reading comprehension, but the data I have seen shows that gap closing as they begin getting more of their insruction in both English and the immersion language. By the end of high school there is no gap per se that can be attributed to a student being in immersion. There is ample research around that finding.

I really am confused what that has to do with ESL students enrolled at Berkeley. I also don't buy your contention that immersion works best in families where the immersion language is spoken. While that could be true, there is evidence that students without such a background also perform well in immersion programs. As for your comments about Spanish speaking families and Mandarin immersion, I won't go there.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Thanks Paul.

FWIW, as far as I can tell, the reserach on FLES/FLEX is weak. BTW, Lindholm-Leary does not speak to this - she is an immersion/Dual Language person, not FLES. I can't find anything but immersion/DL on her site.

Here's a link from the Council on Teaching Foreign Langagues that summarizes a long list of FLES research: Web Link

While there are many studies listed, they all seem weak or off-point:
- the first looks at a language magnet school - self-selecting sample and no true control group (they control against "other magnet schools" - so one self-selected sample compared to others)
- the second sounds good, but when you actually find the study it shows they looked at change in performance over just one semester - so classic Hawthorne effect, where the "special" group did better than the control over a short period
- the third is high school students and looks at those who studied FL vs. those who did not - self-selecting sample
- the fourth looks at high school FL achievement for those who had elementary FL instruction - kids who started FL earlier did better at FL later. Makes sense.
- the fifth is very vague ("suggests FLES has a positive effect" - on what?) and is from 1962, so I can't find any more about it
- the sixth is actually immersion, not FLES
- the seventh is "bi-lingualism" which usually means ELL's or immerision
- the list goes on and on

Sorry to be so pendantic, but my concern is that people broadly cite research that "consistently" shows the various benefits of FL instruction, but either the research is weak or the programs unrelated to what we are considering.

For instance, on the PAUSD task force update, they mention that the "minimum" for FLES programs is "30-40 minutes, 3-5 times a week" - that's 120-150 (3x40 or 5x30) minutes a week. (BTW, I don't know how this "minimum" is determined, but that's what they wrote.) But they then propose that PAUSD should consider 60-75 minutes/week - half the "minimum." Why? They don't say, other than say that other schools do it too. If there were research that shows that FLES at 120 minutes/week yields some benefit, should we expect to get it with a 60 minute/week program? Would we get half the benefit? 80%? None? Fair to say that no-one would know the answer.

My guess is the best that can be said is the kids given FLES/FLEX as proposed will do somewhat better in language study later than kids without. Makes sense - I'm sure it is true most other subjects and activities too. So it comes back to - how important is FL vs. the other things our kids could study.

Sorry for the long (mildly ranting) post ;-)

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2007 at 1:38 am

My computer ate my post last night, so I'll go back to a couple of points.

1) What I've never seen and no one has ever provided here is a study that addresses the effects of a second-language immersion program on the *writing* skills of native-English speakers. Ricky says that anecdotes are irrelevant. I don't think so--not when there appears to be an academic research gap. Anecdotes tell you what questions to ask.

Over and over, you see studies that compare *reading* skills, not writing. Reading, not writing, is much easier to measure on standardized tests.

Really look at *what's* being measured and how. Much of the positive news we get regarding the beneficial effects of immersion is in regards to ESL kids.

Regarding Berkeley students--I mention this not because I don't know the difference between immersion and bilingualism, but because I think it points to a fallacy put forth by immersion proponents--that somehow language skills translate readily from one language to another. (And, yes, Ricky, the remedial English classes at Berkeley are heavily East Asian--they've been nicknamed "Asian Concentration Camp". And the vast majority of Asian students currently at Berkeley have at least one immigrant parent.)

Or to put it simply--writing well in English takes practice writing in English--not Spanish, not Mandarin, not Swahili. It's also something that kids are more likely to do through school than on their own.

I find it bizarre when immersion proponents claim that there's no effect or, better yet, there's a beneficial one when kids' opportunities to write in English are drastically curtailed in the early school years.

I don't see the logic frankly, so I'd love to a study that actually supports the conclusion. I never have--and I've asked numerous times. As Terry demonstrates above--what the studies show and what people think they show are often very different things. I was sort of surprised when I really couldn't find a study that looked at writing--reading, math, yes, but not writing. I think there's a tendency to assume "verbal" skills covers it all--but it doesn't--not when you look at what counts as a "verbal" test.

But back to FLEX/FLES. FLEX sounds worse than useless--who needs a language-tasting menu? I'd rather have our afterschool programs than that. (And the Halloween parade).

Speaking of immersion--which I happen to favor as a method of second-language instruction, though I'm dubious about its ability to work cognitive miracles--I still think a summer-immersion program with some schoolyear support is the way to go. It could be voluntary; it wouldn't take up time and space needed for other things.

*And* unlike other disciplines, the relatively short intense bursts of immersion instruction works for foreign languages. Six weeks of four hours a day would equal in terms of time, a year's worth of FLES.

Immersion language instruction started out as relatively short-term--Middlebury College, as I recall, first popularized it--with *summer* immersion sessions.

Is there any reason why summer immersion wouldn't work with kids? I can think of a couple of friends whose young children picked up a second language while visiting overseas relatives for a summer.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Dec 14, 2007 at 8:43 am


There IS a summer immersion program. It's Spanish Immersion, of course, and my understanding is that it's only open to those who are enrolled in SI during the regular school year.

I agree with you - a summer immersion program open to all students (particularly those who were turned away from SI) would be a good place to start offering language to all who are interested. It could be organized by level, much like swim lessons, rather than by grade. This would allow any student in any grade (K-2; 3-5; 6-8) to participate from the program's inception.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2007 at 9:57 am

Ohlonepar wants statistical evidence that shows the effects of immersion on writing skills. Yet, she admits that reading "is much easier to measure on standardized tests." In fact, writing skills cannot be measured on a standardized test, as should be obvious from the subjective nature of the activity. So Ohlonepar is asking for something that cannot exist.

What we do know is that immersion kids (both English and target language speakers) end up better readers than non-immersion kids and that you can't be a good writer without being a good reader.

Ohlonepar cites Berkely to debunk the "fallacy" that language skills translate from one language to another. Strawman. No one has claimed this (though in a sense it it true). She should go read the appropriate literature and then return to talk. The studies point out that within an immersion program, when children are learning to read, literacy in one language supports literacy in another. This isn't a claim--it's just a statistical fact proven again and again. To put it simply, practicing reading and writing in Spanish does help immersion kids to read and write in English.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

In any case, race is not language. The question here is about language. Are former immersion students over-represented in remedial English? She doesn't know. Are bilingual kids over-represented in remedial English? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2007 at 10:09 am

Although I agree that a standardized writing test is difficult if you are trying to create a test that tests creativity and ideas, but a standardized test for written grammar is definitely possible.

A test with the same sentence written x number of times with subtle changes to word order (big, black truck/ black, big truck), spellings (there, their, they're), verb sense ( I could have done/could of done), etc., would be a fine way to start. I find that even those who do not learn a language find these types of tasks difficult and not only would it be a challenge to those learning more than one language, it would be a challenge to those learning only English.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2007 at 1:30 am


You're jumping (again) to conclusions.

I never said writing could not be measured on standardized tests--I said that it wasn't measured on the current ones used to assess immersion programs. There are many standardized tests that measure writing--i.e. AP tests and what was the English Achievement test and is, now, I believe, part of SAT II.

And, of course, Berkeley's own assessment tests.

As Parent points out, you could measure grammar. However, if one really cared about the subject, you could also set up a test to measure writing--i.e. essay answers to questions which are then blindly scored on organizsation, word usage, punctuation, grammar and clarity.

In fact, since it's not difficult to do some sort of assessment of writing skills, the curious thing is that researchers haven't done it. Or, for that matter, done some sort of longitudinal study. I've seen such studies for ESL kids, but not for the English-speaking dual-immersion counterparts.

It's interesting, also, you claimed earlier that you'd seen a bunch of studies and there was no evidence of a lag in English composition. Now you're saying there is no evidence period because writing skills aren't tallied on bubble cards.

In other words, your views on immersion and its affects on kids is partially based on faith, not fact. Something you didn't even notice until I asked you to find a study assessing comp. skills in native speakers.

Now for Berkeley, you wrote:
"Ohlonepar cites Berkely to debunk the "fallacy" that language skills translate from one language to another. Strawman. No one has claimed this (though in a sense it it true)"

In other words, you're claiming it even as you say no one has. And yes people have done just that in the Town Forum. They want to believe something and they infer more from the literature than is actually there--i.e. you referred people to Lindholm-Leary, assuming she'd written something about comp. skills in native speakers when she has not.

Ummm, you do realize that "Asian Concentration Camp" is a nickname used by the Asian students in those classes? Sounds like a certain wry self-acknowledgment to me. Most of 'em get through the now-extended program, by the way, and think they are better students for it. I believe you wanted some stats--okay, more than 90 percent of the Asian kids at Cal are first or zero-generation with at least one ESL parent who speak another language at home.. The majority of Asian kids at Berkeley need to take these courses. About a quarter of the white kids do. I don't know if I'd call it "overrepresentation"--do you think there should be quotas? Or proportional distribution? I'd say it's what you'd expect given the
language situation at home for a lot of these kids.

I use Asian here because, frankly, Hispanics are such a small percentage at Berkeley that you don't get a good cross-section. Also, Asian immigrants have tended to strongly value education--when these kids don't do well on English comp. it's not because they and their parents didn't care about homework or education. You don't have some of the confounding variables that negatively effect academic performance.

Writing *in any language* is the last language skill mastered and the hardest. It saddens me that with all the jumping up and down over the glories of language immersion, that no one seems to really look at what's happening to the kids involved. There's far too much cheerleading and not nearly enough critical thinking.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 16, 2007 at 1:47 am

Yet Another P.,

I know of one non-SI family allowed into the summer program as the kid was fluent in Spanish, but it sounds that nothing's set up for beginners.

But you're right, a Spanish immersion summer program that was open to nonspeakers and had multiple levels would be a great way to start--Escondido must already have staff, curriculum and textbooks that could be adapted to a summer program.

And, frankly, I think the Escondido neighborhood community is owed the opportunity given how little chance they have of actually getting into SI proper. Heck, it might even help integrate the two school communities. In some of the higher level Spanish summer classes you might even have some mixing of the two groups.

And there could be a response to demand without tying down resources--French, Japanese, Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Latin, German. If the demand is there, this area is polyglot enough that you can find native speakers (except for Latin)for any of the big languages.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2007 at 12:31 pm


I didn't make claims about immersion and composition or about Lindholm-Leary and comp.

All evidence points to a positive effect of immersion on English. This is typically measured in reading scores, because that skill is easier to measure and because comp skills have not developed far by fifth grade. You bring up a far-fetched claim (immersion will hurt English composition skills) with no evidence or even rationale and ask for proof it doesn't happen. Well, the only proof would be an exam that objectively measures composition at the end of fifth grade. As I've pointed out, such an exam does not and cannot exist.

Perhaps your children are only early elementary and so you are not aware, but "composition" is not something that anyone tries to measure objectively in third graders or fifth graders. It would be unusual for a fifth grader to take an AP test.

Now, you also mention grammar, and that is different from composition. It would be interesting to see the result of of such a comparison--my money is on much higher scores for the immersion kids. Hands down.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
You don't seem to understand that the issue is language not race. For instance, some Chinese-Americans have families going back four or five generations in this country, so why do you lump them with immigrants? In any case, none of your information is relevant to the question at hand: does immersion harm composition skills?

At heart, your view (immersion must, must harm composition skills--it's just not fair that there is no trade-off) is based on faith.

I don't expect to sway you from your faith-based reasoning. One the other hand, I hope you realize that your appeals to faith will only work for those of your religion.

Some parents look to educational studies with statistical evidence (rather than just faith) when thinking about their children's education. For them, immersion might be compelling.

Posted by New SI Supporter, a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:23 am

Congratulations to Menlo Park's board of education for approving a Spanish Immersion program to start fall 2008 with kindergarteners.

Just say si!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:26 pm

No Ricky,

You made sweeping statements that said and say little that is definitive. Then when questioned, you told other people to head to Lindhom-Leary--with the implication that the answers they were seeking would be there.

Why is my "assertion" "far-fetched"? I don't, in fact, assert it, I merely question the unproven assumption that immersion programs have no effect or a positive one on English composition skills. "Far-fetched"--because I think writing well in English involves practice writing in English? How is that far-fetched? Be specific. I've asked other people about this before and no one can ever give me a real answer as to how this miracle of linguistic transubstantiation is supposed to work. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I did not, in fact, lump in Asian-Americans whose ancestors came here 100 or more years ago with zero-gen kids. I broke it out for you. I pointed out what the make-up of the remedial English classes are at Berkeley--kids of immigrants. And, yes, Asian because those kids have had the grades to get into Berkeley. For which they should be congratulated, frankly--particularly since they did it with a less-than-stellar grasp of written English.

As for "faith"--hardly. Remember, I keep asking for evidence. I've asked and looked repeatedly for a study that addresses the effect--negative or positive--of second-language immersion classes on English comp.

You're right in one thing--I don't have enough information. Neither does anyone else and that makes for rotten educational policy.

That's not about faith, it's simply not letting go of a good question. I know MI supporters feel very defensive about their program, but for the sake of the kids, you should get some solid answers on the written English issue. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:07 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
You made an unlikely claim (immersion must, MUST harm English comp skills!). This is not a question but a faith-based belief. Hasn't it occurred to you that no one else has been evangelized? That there is no evidence for this belief? That no educators share your credo?

You also say that it seems like a "miracle" to you that learning a second language in an immersion program improves the native language, and I can see how it would seem miraculous. But educators have studied this "miracle," as you call it, and prefer to say that learning to read and write is additive and not zero sum. As it turns out, learning a second language in an immersion program does not undercut skills in the native language. In fact, those skills are boosted beyond those acquired by mono-lingual peers. I'm just reporting statistical fact, not making any claims.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm

We seem to be going over the same old, same old.

Here is my take on this once again. In one example I know where an elementary age child spent 3 years in a foreign country where she went to an international school where the teaching was done in the local language and the native English speakers (from Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, Canada, US, etc.) were given English for 40 mins a day (similar to our Spanish for Spanish speakers classes) while the others were learning beginners English, she returned to her native country to finish her education from about the high school level. She constantly had problems performing math, science, geography, history, etc. through the medium of English. She even had some problems keeping up in English. She was tested by a remedial educator who found that her basic problems were that during the very important learning writing language years she did not have enough time using English as her first language. She was able to read and interpret what she read without any problems, but she found writing her thoughts, both imaginative and factual (e.g. history, math, science) as being poor. Her written grammar, her spelling and even her vocabulary, particularly scientific vocabulary, were very poor. Through remedial English classes she did manage to pick up, but she still feels at college that her writing skills are poor compared to her peers.

Now you may say that this is only one example and not as good as statistics, but in my opinion statistics are only as good as what is being tested. Many statisticians will tell you that statistics can be framed to give you any results that are desired. So, when looking at data, use some common sense as well and don't just behave like a parrot.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2007 at 5:47 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I'd be more concerned if I were a potential immersion parent about the information gap regarding writing than I am as a non-immersion parent.

As for the ethnicity issue--blame UC Berkeley not me--their categorizations, not mine. Asian isn't a race, by the way--though racial categorizations are pretty silly from a scientific point-of-view. The numbers are what I'd expect of any group that's zero-and first-generation from non-English-speaking countries.

Parent, your story is an interesting one. I know you've told it before and, as I recall, you've never gotten a solid pro-immersion response on it--i.e. well this won't happen here because . . . or, immersion's different because . . . it's always along the lines of, it's not happening because Lindholm-Leary didn't study it.

It's really a question of thinking it through.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2007 at 12:13 pm


"I'd be more concerned if I were a potential immersion parent about the information gap regarding writing" I'd just go with the overwhelming evidence of statistical studies and with the uniform judgement of educators: immersion has no downside.

"blame UC Berkeley not me" Er, they have the racial categorization. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Interesting how quick you are to dismiss evidence that Asians are academic high achievers ("what I'd expect of any group").


Thanks for that example. As you point out, it is merely an anecdote and may have no statistical relevance.

Yet it does support the idea that for bilingual education to work well, the program has to be well constructed. Perhaps if the child had managed to enter a bilingual dual immersion program, and stick with it, she would have out-achieved monolingual peers in English, as do most immersion kids.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 12:57 pm

Hey Ricky, is there one really solid study that you would recommend to us in order to understand the benefits of language immersion education? I would like to understand better, but with so much out there (and much of it junk) it would be great to have a recommendation or two.


Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Hello, Terry, you were on the right track with Lindholm Leary: published, peer-reviewed studies with bibliographical references take you to other studies going back to the 70s, as I recall.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Thanks Ricky.

I've been a little let down by the L-L stuff, which is why I was hoping you could point to one strong article. Representative of the several I've looked at, the primary finding was that English-proficient students in dual language immersion programs did better than the California state average in 7th grade standardized tests. That's a pretty weak finding, since it is a self-selected sample vs an overall average - for instance, you are comparing kids who speak English to start with a population with a lot of ELLs.

It seems like the claim that her research supports is that ELLs do better in Dual Language immersion than in other programs. And that EP's (English-Proficients) don't do measurably less well, and they do learn a foreign language. That all seems sensible to me. Do you think there is research that supports bigger claims than that?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2007 at 2:03 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] You haven't provided any evidence that shows there is no ill effect on English writing skills.

Well, actually, we know that there is at least some, given the 2/3-grade score drop. The question is how longterm and extensive that drop is. Math seems negligible. Reading picks up. Writing, well that goes curiously unexamined.

So, tell me, how do kids compensate for their lack of practice in writing in English. You say you've read the literature--so what happens?

By the way, I learned the basics of a language via immersion at the college level. I seem to be one of the rare people in the Forum who actually has first-hand experience with the technique. I think highly of it as a way to learn a second language (and, interestingly, my language retention has been excellent. I can still read the language after more than 20 years). But as far as its effect on my first-language skills? Well, it made me think and analyze English grammar, but I don't see that happening with kids who don't have a formal grasp of their first-language grammar.

In other words, the carryover, which was fairly small, was at an abstract level and occurred, in part, because I *already* had advanced language skills *in* English.

So, you claim to have read the research. Illuminate us. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm


There was quite a number of studies, it's true, and finding exactly what one wants is a research project in itself.

But Lindholm Leary does have findings for dual immersion programs (Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin, if I recall correctly) showing immersion kids in various districts outperforming their district peers as well as state peers at various grade levels. One of the more striking comparisons showed immersion kids (both native English speakers and ELLs) in Cupertino (slightly) outperforming PAUSD kids in English, as well as outperforming district peers.

"It seems like the claim that her research supports is that ELLs do better in Dual Language immersion than in other programs. And that EP's (English-Proficients) don't do measurably less well, and they do learn a foreign language. That all seems sensible to me. Do you think there is research that supports bigger claims than that?"

Hard to answer. Some of the studies showed ELLs doing better than native English speakers, rather than just better than fellow ELLs. And similarly, some showed native English speakers doing better than peers, rather than "not measurably less well." But those results came from studies of a handful of programs. I would guess that there is variation across programs, just as there is variation across schools. I don't know what the answer would be if you could somehow compare ALL immersion programs against traditional schools (which ones? etc.).

But I would think that a well-run program would at the very least produce the results you summarized.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Thanks Ricky. I agree, there are quite a thicket of studies out there.

The challenge with this, like almost ALL educational research, is that good control groups are hard to come by. Kids/parents self-select into immersion programs (esp the EP kids). So who do you compare them to? Just comparing to the district as a whole or even same school kids who did NOT select the program is not so good - clearly these parents were motivated to get their kid into a special program of a certain kind. State comparisons are even harder, since local district (read: wealth and educational background) effects probably swamp the impact of a particular program.

It isn't that educational researchers are blind to this of course - it is just very hard to get people to let their kids be educational lab rats and be randomly assigned to programs. And educational "placebos" are hard to come by ;-)

So I am suspicious of studies that show that kids in a special program outperform the average other "peer groups" (though I'll look more at the L-L material). On the other hand, unless there is good evidence, I wouldn't expect they'd do a lot worse either.

Posted by Ricky, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:43 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Your most recent post is illuminating. You say language skills cannot be additive in elementary immersion programs. Why? Because you took an immersion class as an adult, and the additive aspect you found depends on a formal grasp of grammar, which elementary kids do not have.

You point depends on some assumptions, one of which is that the sum of additivity to be gained from immersion is something you personally observed. That is to say, if you didn't see it, it doesn't exist. It's more than a little arrogant coming from someone with no background in the field. It's also false.

Second, you assume that your experience is identical with that of children in immersion. Are you familiar with the terms emic and etic? No matter. Suffice to say, the adult's experience is fundamentally different from the child's experience. Again, your assumption leads you to make unsound arguments.

I point this out not as a gotcha, but to make clear how otiose your approach to all of this material is. With no knowledge of the field, you trot out a bit of knowledge or personal experience, extrapolate from it, and make far-fetched claims and challenge statistical findings on the basis that they do not fit your preconceptions and limited experience. It's one approach, I guess.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Dec 18, 2007 at 10:48 pm

I am worried that a FLES program or an immersion program for younger children may have a reverse effect in a child's desire to seriously study a language when they are older.

Like Ohlone Par, I learned to speak a language while I was in college (Spanish). I was older, and chose this language because it was interesting to me. I went on to teach bilingual courses, travel to Mexico, and participate in church group trips to Mexico.

I worry that some of these young children may rebel and not want to learn a language if they are required to learn it.

I have seen similar things happen to children who were required to take music and even art.

I personally know two elementary school boys who are totally turned off to music, but they are required to play an instrument. I think that both of them actually love music (singing), and believe they may have talent if they were exposed to choral music. Right now, they dislike music so much, that it will probably be impossible to convince them either of them to enroll in a choral class once they get older.

In reference to the cultural benefits of a FLES or immersion program, we are already surrounded by a diverse number of children from all over the world. My kids have so many friends from all over the world as it is. Since they entered preschool here, they have been exposed to practically all the different holidays and customs from all over the world. They also learn different cultures and customs just by having play dates over at their friends homes.

I worry about the backlash of introducing a required language and foreign culture to elementary school children. I am afraid that it may quell their interests when they are older.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 1:26 am

Ok Ricky (and anybody else who still cares), I did finally figure something out from L-L's research. This link Web Link
(a PDF file) is a presentation on a longitudinal study of various immersion programs. And yes, it shows (on p14) English Proficients (English first language, called "EP"s) kids in 50/50 Spanish immersion programs before above grade level in CAT6/SAT9 tests. It also says (on p23) that for MATH "students in dual language achieve at levels comparable to or much higher than peers." (no data on that though)

BUT - this Math results applies to the combination of ELLs and EPs. The logical conclusion is NOT that immersion somehow increases cognitive function or overall results; it is much more likely that ELLs learning English improves their overall results in school. There is no data (in this study) that shows how EPs do against control groups. The only data that addresses EP results suggests that results tend to vary by social-economic status (see p14).

My takeaway is that dual immersion works well for ELLs, no real conclusion to draw of EPs. And, btw, this study (as many of the immersion study) is focused on low-income areas with large ELL populations (for instance, in this study 75% of the students were low income). So no real data on how high-income (and presumably already high performing) kids do, and whether they do or don't miss out on challenging skills like writing.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:53 am

It would be instructive to analyze the kids in this school district who are recent graduates or junior/senior year students at Gunn and PALY who went through the entire Spanish Immersion program from Kindergarten on.

Someone who knows how to design and conduct studies around this could conceivably select a comparable group of peer students with seemingly similar profiles, except that they were not in the Immersion instruction program.

There may not be enough students at this point for such analysis to be considered "statistically valid" or definitive. Nevertheless, even if the information that comes from such a study were more qualitative than quantitative, it could do a great deal to help our community understand what our first hand experience has been to date, and I suspect likely would have implications for both MI and SI going forward, and also likely for aspects of how a FLES program would best work here, should the community and district choose to go forward with FLES.

Good project for someone working on a PhD in Stanford's Ed Department. PAUSD does not have the staff bandwidth or funds for such an analysis.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:27 pm


There's also another issue with studies like Lindholm-Leary's and that's whether they take into account the attrition factor. To some extent, there's a self-selection bias problem--i.e. kids with problems in the program drop out. Remember when we were all trying to figure out CLIP's actual attrition rate? So there's the issue of self-selection in that motivated parents are more likely to put their kids in the program and then selection via attrition--those who can't or don't want to hack it drop out.

It makes it very difficult to do a simple cross-comparison.


Thank you for agreeing that there are areas for further research. SI at Escondido may be too young for statistical relevance, but there are older immersion programs. Several program outcomes could be studied as a subject for an education dissertation.

It's funny, a friend of mine whose parents were immigrants told me today that she confused certain word meanings to this day because the differences didn't exist in her mother tongue. It's interesting because she's extremely adept in English and learned it as an infant/toddler from her bilingual parents. I would never have thought there was any issue with her fluency--I tend to think her English is better than mine--but even she thinks there are this odd glitches. I suppose it's just the sheer hugeness and jumble of the English vocabulary. (Who was saying that we English speakers have to spend a lot of school time learning to spell?)


It comes down to teaching well, I think. I mean I hated math in school--it took me years to realize that I was actually kind of gifted in that area. That's what bad teaching will do--in any subject.

That said, my kid for reasons known only to the child-mind had a strong preference for one of the languages offered at Ohlone, so that's what we did. Desire helps a lot. There's a bit of an issue, I think, if we switch kids away from languages they've already begun learning into a district choice.

But then, I'm still waving my flag for a variety of Summer immersion supported by voluntary afterschool FLES with some materials support from the district.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:57 pm

OP, I strongly second the approach you mention, which seems designed to actually accomplish something for those who really have interest. Are we the only two thinking that way? I talked to someone on the task force who blithely reported "Oh, everyone is in favor of it, it is just a matter of how." Good grief, I hope not!

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:24 pm

I don't want my comment about a suggested study of SI students who have gone through the PAUSD system to be misunderstood, which is what OP's comment implies may be the case.

While there is room for additional research, the objectives I see for studying our own students is to understand how the program we have is working, and what can be done to improve it or modify it. This is entirely different than using such a study, were it to happen, as a basis for determining if Immersion or FLES as a program should be part of the district.

I am a marketing guy by background, and some places I have worked have used marketing research more effectively than others. Nothing is more pernicious than using research that is designed for one purpose to be used/extrapolated to justify or support another set of questions the research was not designed to answer. And it happens all the time.

I have no idea if any studies will be formally conducted in the near term around our own immersion kids, if something were done, that would be great. I am sure if it were effectively designed, we could learn a great deal. But the way it is designed and the sorts of questions such a study would ask would have bearing on its utility as a strategic/policy tool, around the role of immersion and FLES in this community, -vs- more of an "operational" tool, which can help improve our understanding what what aspects of the program are working well/providing good outcomes, and which ones may not be hitting targets we have for our students as they complete their years in the school district.

This is not my expertise, but I am not certain we have enough students who have gone through this program to provide the sort of research findings around the benefits and potential drawbacks of language insruction that could be used side by side the studies that have been conducted over many years and many places around these subjects. I am more comfortable with the idea that we can "assess" the students who have been through this program, compare them with a "control group" of peers, and see what the findings tell us about our experience in Palo Alto, and use that information to make "course corrections" in the curriculum we have in place.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 20, 2007 at 2:32 pm


I'm not trying to distort your position--I'm aware we have different views.

My point is, simply, that there are some unanswered questions about the effects of immersion (I'm less concerned about FLES as it doesn't replace parts of the core curriculum in English, but is an adjunct.) It would be nice to see some solid, long-term studies. And, yes, the intent would be to create a better education for the kids.

I think your proposed study deals with such a relatively small number of students that I don't know how statistically valid it would be. It could certainly be a start.


Not sure why there's so little thinking outside the box on this. I think Summer immersion with schoolyear support would just solve a lot of problems and would offer the advantages of immersion-style instruction without requiring a six-year commitment. We already have elementary SI summer school set-up, so if we just widened its application, I don't see how A) it would be wildly expensive and B) crowd out anything else. It's also neighborhood school friendly.

We know immersion works for language instruction, so why not use it in a limited way so our kids get decent language instruction without the boutique-program issue.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 2:40 pm

OP, you should send it in to the TF at their email address and copy Skelly, etc. They need help.

I agree, the thinking is totally in the box (FLES vs. FLEX (?) vs. nothing) with no really justification. As proposed, I think it should just be killed for lack of merit vs. cost and effort; but we certainly should be able to offer something at lower cost to all that enables language learning.

Posted by disagree, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Paul -

There is one thing "more pernicious than using research that is designed for one purpose to be used/extrapolated to justify or support another set of questions the research was not designed to answer."

That is [marketing] research designed specifically to justify or support a set of questions.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2007 at 9:25 pm

So what's your point, disagree? I don't detect any commentary in this thread calling for research that fits such a description. I do detect points of view about how complete and comprehensive the exisitng body of research is, and in Terry's case, some misgivings about how well research methodologies work in evaluating education curriculum options around language.

You seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of "sandbagging" going on here. Or are you saying something else that I am not understanding?

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