In a time where 31 states have passed English Only initiatives, one urban school district is exploring the provocative notion that speaking a foreign language can be a national asset. We follow four diverse students and their families as they encounter the challenges and delights of becoming fluent in two languages. As we witness their journey, we see how speaking more than one language changes them, their families, their communities, and maybe even the world.
Speaking in Tongues begins with an ordinary first day of public school kindergarten-except that the teacher speaks only Chinese. Most of her primarily white and Asian American students look confused but curious; a few nod knowingly. They are all in a language immersion class, where, from day one, they will receive 90% of their instruction in Cantonese. Remarkably, their school will test first in English and math among their district's 76 elementary schools.
The film's four protagonists come to language immersion programs for very different reasons. Jason is a first generation Mexican-American whose immigrant family embraces bilingualism as the key to full participation in the land of opportunity. Durrell is an African-American kindergartner whose mom hopes that learning Mandarin will be a way out of economic uncertainty and into possibility. Kelly is a Chinese-American recapturing the Cantonese her parents sacrificed to become American. Julian is a Caucasian 8th grader eager to expand his horizons and become a good world citizen. Together, they represent a nexus of challenges facing America today: economic and academic inequities, de facto segregation, record numbers of new immigrants, and the need to communicate across cultures.
Learn more at speakingintonguesfilm.info.
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