Trustee Bao Nguyen in the Garden Grove Unified School District is fighting for a Vietnamese dual language program that is good for the community and good for America.
The purpose of a dual language program is to build literacy in content in English and another target language.
Indeed, throughout Orange County, dual immersion language programs are growing.
And for good reason, as underscored on a recent family vacation to New Orleans. At the iconic Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, we were served by Eva, a perky Chinese college student attending Tulane University.
“I love America. It’s really a lot of fun. There are so many different people here,” explained the confident but pleasant co-ed, who spoke with only a hint of accent. Noticing that there were other Chinese students eagerly waiting on hordes of tourists, I asked Eva what she and they were studying here.
“Many of us are here to improve our English. I love meeting all the tourists from all over, but really I need to interact with speakers of academic English.”
I glanced at my son, a sophomore at Fullerton High School. He was looking politely at Eva while dipping a warm beignet into a hot chocolate.
“Your English is great. How long have you been studying?”
“Since I was 10.”
“So what are your plans?”
“I plan to work here in America, hopefully for a Chinese company.”
I noticed that my son paused, his beignet dripping onto the table. My wife was smiling warmly at Eva, who wiped the chocolate drippings off the table and skipped back toward the kitchen as if she owned the whole damned place.
My son looked at me. “We’re screwed, aren’t we Dad?”
“Yes. So you better get a friggin’ A in Spanish.”
My son knew right away that Eva was serious about working for a Chinese company that will have bought an American company but that would likely employ Chinese nationals like her.
“You know, that’s what they are doing in Tibet,” he said.
The fact is that there are more Chinese learning English than Americans who are learning English. In less than a generation, there will be more English-speaking Chinese than the entire population of America.
And they are here learning academic English while some of our local school board trustees are being challenged for attempting to build dual language programs that capitalize on a great advantage we have over our global competitors.
We are a country of diverse immigrants who bring many assets such as language and culture, which are huge marketing resources.
Imagine if we tapped into our communities by building academic world languages and English capacity? We’d be able to counter foreign competitors and beat them at their own game by having homegrown Americans market to them in their languages.
That night I wanted to know just how many Chinese were studying in American universities and found that there are close to 200,000. Add another 100,000 Indian students and one could quickly see how aggressive these countries have been in positioning their student leaders to thrive in America.
Contrast that figure with the paltry 13,000 American students studying in China and another 3,000 in India and you have a gigantic linguistic arms gap.
The race is on folks.
And unless visionary trustees like Bao Nguyen succeed in moving our Orange County schools into the 21st century, many more of our children might someday be serving the sweet Evas from China and asking them if their beignets need warming.
North County educator and community college trustee Michael Matsuda is a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.