Impact

In the work that I do, I find people very interested in what is happening in Utah… What Utah is doing is expanding, blowing up the number of students that are able to participate in immersion….Parents in Utah get it about the importance of language from many different angles. They are waiting for this.

Gregory W. Duncan, President, Interprep Inc., Foreign Language Education Consultant

Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Programs have captured national attention. Numerous articles from prestigious journals and magazines claim Utah is leading the nation in dual language immersion and the economic advantages are only part of the story. Dynamic neurobiological research conducted at leading universities investigates the cognitive advantages to learning a second language. The research shows that there is power in a bilingual brain and Utah is harnessing that power at insignificant cost to Utah taxpayers.

Two recent articles discuss specific learning advantages Utah dual language immersion (DLI) students receive in an immersion classroom. In August 2014, American Radioworks focused on the story of bilingualism in dual language immersion in Utah and called Utah’s program “the nation’s most ambitious state-led immersion program.”1 In March 2014, Susan Eaton, Research Director for the Charles Hamilton House Institute at Harvard Law School published her story on how Utah’s DLI programs are shrinking the achievement gap between English language learners and native English speakers in Spanish DLI programs in Utah.2

1 The Power of the Bilingual Brain, American Radioworks, 2014, http://www.americanradioworks.org/segments/this-is-your-brain-on-language/

2 Utah's Bilingual Boon, One Nation Indivisible, 2014, http://www.onenationindivisible.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ONIstoryNo.13UtahV3.pdf

Impact on Dual Immersion Students

Historically bilingualism in the U.S. has had peaks and valleys of support, reasons that were often tied to politics; as recently as the year 2000 Utah had an English-only state policy in education. Why the turn-around? Global economics and the importance of international trade to Utah business certainly provides incentive to grow a multilingual and multicultural global workforce. Utah DLI educators also contend that the cognitive advantages to young students learning a second language have a beneficial learning impact beyond their shining global future.

"Researchers now believe that when people learn another language, they develop cognitive advantages that improve their attention, self-control, and ability to deal with conflicting information," saya Samara Freemark and Stephen Smith in This is Your Brain on Language.1 Data from Utah schools2 support this assumption showing that immersion students are on par with their non-immersion peers in state and district testing in Math, Science, and English language arts with the majority of districts showing slightly higher scores across all the content areas by the immersion students. It helps to explain why Utah parents are lining up by the thousands to enroll their children in Utah's DLI programs.

Freemark and Smith write about a specific family’s experience in their article. Stacy Steiner, the mother of a first grader at Horizon Elementary in Washington, Utah, characterized her son Justin as a struggling learner and expressed her concerns about placing him in an immersion classroom. "Last year Justin struggled in school, this year he's making A's," says Stacy. She continues, "It has absolutely broadened my plans for my children. I'm so excited to see what they do with it. Maybe they'll wave at me from the top some time."1

The most recent significant research on the power of the bilingual brain has been conducted by a team at York University in Toronto, Canada, led by Dr. Ellen Bialystok. She believes that the executive control system, a network in the brain's frontal lobe, develops differently in a bilingual brain because of the need to switch, mentally, between languages. "The network is a kind of traffic control system that helps organize and regulate thinking. When a bilingual person calls on the network to manage the traffic of dual languages, it gets stronger."1

These cognitive benefits reach beyond the language centers in the brain influencing the way young students learn other subjects. Students in DLI programs, often already excelling in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) areas of education as they learn many of these subjects through the context of a different language, will harness the cognitive benefits from their DLI learning experience to be successful in advanced study of these and other subject areas throughout their education.