Elementary-school parents launch foreign-language program here to give children competitive edge

By Brett Ashley Hawkins
Editorial Intern

With the imminent closing of Burroughs Elementary School in Long Beach, public elementary schools are becoming more crowded and more competitive. To give elementary-school students a fighting chance at becoming competitive in today’s high-tension work and education worlds, two Longfellow Elementary School parents, Jennifer Lallite and Kimberly Brown, have copiloted a foreign-language enrichment program, Lango Kids, to grace Long Beach schools this spring and continue through the fall.
Lallite and Brown presented their Long Beach-based branch of the nationwide Lango Kids initiative to parents and educators at Tuesday’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meeting at Longfellow Elementary School.
“[I was] still looking for enrichment programs for my two young sons,” said Lallite, whose children had previously participated in karate, jujitsu, and other extracurricular activities. “When I was looking for foreign language, which I saw as something beyond enrichment and more of a life skill, there was nothing here in Long Beach.” Lallite then discovered Lango Kids, but with the closest classes being taught in the Los Angeles area and Irvine, she sought to bring the program over to Long Beach.
Lango Kids was originally established in San Francisco on the belief that every child should attempt bilingualism. With very little opportunities to teach younger children– ages 18 months to 11 years– until middle school and sometimes high school, programs were created to teach children new languages, integrate new cultures, and still maintain the common child’s insatiable desire for fun.
To help start the Lango Kids Long Beach programs, Lallite and Brown had to make the classes appealing not just for children, but also for adults, in order to make them feel comfortable with enrolling their children in such a class. “We’ve been networking heavily in the community,” Brown said. “We’ve aligned ourselves with several of the departments [at California State University of Long Beach (CSULB)], one of which is the department of linguistics.”
During their launch presentation, Lallite and Brown offered a preview of the five-week Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language classes to be offered once a week (a Tuesday session and a separate Thursday session) to kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Longfellow. Fifth-grade students are able to enroll in the classes but are not targeted as part of the Lango Kids Long Beach demographic due to the program not extending to the middle schools. Lallite added that she expects French to also be offered in addition to the two other languages when Lango Kids relaunches in fall 2011.
As part of their networking, Lallite and Brown introduced Dr. Malcolm Awadajin Finney, professor and chair of the department of linguistics at CSULB, as a guest speaker to define the program’s credibility to the parents attending the PTA meeting.
“I was born and raised in a multilingual community,” Finney said. “When I met with the representatives of Lango Kids… I told them, ‘That is exactly what we need.’ If you look at the world, about 70 percent of the world is bilingual, and unfortunately, the United States is one of few countries where ‘monolingualism’ seems to be the norm… the world is becoming increasingly interconnected. It seems as if English-speaking countries are the [most reluctant] to provide our kids with the opportunity to acquire other languages.”
Concerning the differences between a child learning a language at a younger age as opposed to learning it in adolescence or adulthood, Finney said, “You look at most of the theories of how people acquire languages… everything points to the notion that the younger the child is, the [more successful they’ll be at learning it].”
He then praised Lango Kids’ use of culturally inspired kinesthetic learning, music, dance, and games to teach the foreign language. “It’s best to learn a language within the context of its particular culture in which the language is used,” Finney said. “It’s a socio-cultural benefit.”
Before the PTA meeting continued with its normal proceedings, Longfellow Principal Brian Moskovitz added, “[Lango Kids is] doing what kids need, and it’s doing it in a way that’s exciting for students. We’ve had… Spanish-language programs off and on at Longfellow over the years, and they do a decent job, but it definitely doesn’t have that same enthusiasm, that same total package.”
Before and after the meeting, Lallite and Brown distributed Lango Kids Long Beach literature, including a flyer that listed several statistics, such as: children who study a foreign language perform better on standardized tests; learning a foreign language enhances cognitive abilities; children who learn a foreign language early are more likely to be fluent and have a native-like accent; [and] bilingual candidates have greater opportunities for college admission and careers.
Lango Kids Long Beach will begin hosting its after-school Spanish and Mandarin Chinese classes once a week for their two separate five-week sessions at the cost of $125. The spring session is set to begin May 9 and finish on June 10. The classes are 45 minutes each. Class registration and payment is required by Friday, April 22.

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