In concert with these efforts, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced last month that 47 more pre-K dual-language programs in city schools will open in the fall. In total, there will be 107 dual-language programs for the 2019-20 school year, including the city’s first French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew and Japanese pre-K programs.
Elsewhere, Utah is aiming to internationalize its population by offering dual-language programs to English speakers; its International Education Initiative became law in 2008, and its public schools now offer about 200 immersion programs. “Global California 2030,” an initiative by the state’s superintendent of public education “to vastly expand the teaching and learning of world languages,” was recently adopted in part to maintain and strengthen the diversity of languages spoken in the state.
The French government has long played a role in the support of French language programs in the United States. French offers both great professional potential and access to the vast and growing Francophone community, which could reach 700 million by 2050.
As cultural counselor of the French Embassy, I have spearheaded the creation and development of the French Dual Language Fund, inaugurated by President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, which supports bilingual programs in public schools in the United States. The process of adding such programs varies enormously from one state to another, but the commitment of school districts is crucial for their development.
If Americans want the next generation to be active participants in a multilingual world, dual-language and multicultural education is crucial. Government spending on foreign-language education and the education of qualified foreign-language teachers needs to increase. More states need to enforce language-education requirements. Colleges need to recognize the importance of their foreign-language education programs. In turn, more parents, students and teachers need to lobby for language programs.
The necessity of foreign-language education could not be clearer right now. The future in America, and everywhere, is multilingual. And so is the present.
Bénédicte de Montlaur is the cultural counselor of the French Embassy in the United States.
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