Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speaking In Tongues - A Documentary on Immersion Education


ZAP recently helped San Francisco filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider of Patchworks get their wonderful new documentary "Speaking in Tongues" out on DVD. The film won an audience award at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Ken Schneider has edited several short films at ZAP, and it was a great pleasure to help Ken and Marcia get their beautiful topical film out to a broad audience.

The heated debate over bilingual education usually takes place in courtrooms, at academic conferences and in editorial missives. At its most vitriolic the "English only" camp skews toward xenophobia and racism, while the opposition at times sounds utopian themes of American global economic resurgence with the aid of multilingual classrooms. Often neglected in this discourse is the firsthand experience of students, an oversight that veteran documentarians Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider beautifully rectify with their latest effort.

Closely following four very different local public-schoolers through an academic year, they draw on subtle nuances of the kids' stories to illustrate the complex shades and permutations of bilingual schooling. Two children are placed in immersion programs to retain their native tongues while learning English, and the other two are in the reverse situation. Their parents list both familiar and surprising reasons for enrolling their children, but each remains a strong proponent of the programs despite criticism from extended family, friends and a loud chorus of English-only activists. Even while dismissing common barbs, the families must confront unique challenges both humorous and serious.

With San Francisco becoming the first city to mandate access to bilingual opportunities for all public schoolchildren, this thought-provoking documentary could hardly be timelier.

—Ilya Tovbis

San Francisco International

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