Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Days before the start of the school year, Fabrice Jaumont walked out of the French Consulate‘s mansion on Fifth Avenue, his arms filled with boxes containing books, DVDs and CDs in his native tongue.

He loaded them into the trunk of a car. Destination: the Bronx.

The 35-year-old diplomat was headed to the public Jordan L. Mott middle school in one of the nation’s poorest districts, where some students will arrive for science and other classes — taught in French.

Four dual-language programs are starting in the city this fall. Three are in French, for the first time, including one at a school in Manhattan‘s Harlem area, and the fourth is in Chinese.

“It’s about time,” says Mr. Jaumont, the education attache for the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

“This is a competitive country, and if Americans want to compete globally, they won’t be first anymore if their language skills are not good,” says the energetic young diplomat, whose English is peppered with American jargon.

The new programs are part of a national trend to teach American children subjects such as math, social studies and science in a foreign language. This fall, several hundred thousand youngsters across America are headed to taxpayer-funded classes taught in Spanish, Hebrew, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian and other languages.

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, children at the public Shuang Wen Academy spend much of their school day in classes taught in Mandarin Chinese. The school is so popular among parents of non-ethnic Chinese children eager to prepare their offspring for a changing world that there’s a waiting list for admission.

In each class, about half the students are fluent in Chinese, the other half in English; some are immigrants, others American-born. That 50-50 approach is applied to more than 10,000 other New York City children who voluntarily signed up for the city Department of Education’s 67 dual-language programs (up from 51 in 2004). Each child also starts with separate lessons in the language.

The students end up helping one another with a second language, while learning a subject together.

“It’s very organic,” said Shimon Waronker, principal at the Mott school.

Not to be confused with controversial bilingual education designed to mainstream children who don’t speak English, subjects taught in a foreign language are designed to make a child fluent in speaking and writing two languages. Most of the children start such classes already in elementary school, or even in kindergarten.

There are more than twice as many American public-school students getting a multilingual education now as there were a decade ago, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.

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