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Oregon Voters Face Key Language Education Question on Ballot

CONTACT: Steve Ackley
703-894-2900, x105

October 23, 2006, Alexandria, VA – Voters in Oregon face a November ballot issue that could negatively impact the state’s language education programs, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).  Measure 58 proposes a requirement that Oregon schools provide students with no more than two years of education in a language other than English.  Reacting to a news story on the issue, ACTFL Executive Director Bret Lovejoy said that Measure 58 “should cause concern among citizens who support the concept of language learning and multilingualism in particular.”

A by-product of passage of the proposed regulation would be the likely elimination of the state’s language immersion programs, found primarily at the K-6 levels.  These programs provide all-day instruction in a language other than English to both non-English speaking and English speaking students alike.  The students study some or all academic subjects in the target language, helping the non-English speakers strengthen their English skills and building second-language skills in those for whom English is the native tongue.

“There is now overwhelming research and experience that substantiate the academic, cognitive, cultural and societal benefits that are a product of language learning, benefits that accrue at a faster rate the earlier students begin their language exposure,” said Lovejoy.   “Certainly, giving non-English speaking students adequate instruction in English is important.  However, research indicates that abrupt loss of the first language of immigrants at an early age interrupts overall language development and may lead to weakened function of language in the learning process.  It is simply unreasonable to expect all immigrant students to learn English with just two years of instruction.  Beyond that is the invaluable experience that ALL students gain from learning together … and from each other … in a multilingual environment.”

Opponents contend that maintaining immersion programs is too costly and that two years is an adequate period of time to teach English to non-native students.  But according to Lovejoy, “Oregonians have an opportunity, by rejecting Measure 58, to demonstrate to all Americans that they understand and are willing to invest in a curriculum that will not only enhance the learning experience, but will prepare students for meaningful, rewarding roles in society at the end of their school careers.”

More than 11,000 foreign language educators and administrators hold membership in ACTFL.  The association provides these members with a wide variety of professional development opportunities, including training and certification programs.  The association’s annual convention, scheduled for November 21-23, 2008 in Orlando, offers more than 700 program sessions and workshops where members and experts in the field share their research, classroom experience and best practices.  The World Languages Expo offers a once-a-year opportunity to view the latest developments in language teaching technology and classroom products.

Thursday, October 26, 2006