Language Immersion Programs Nurture and Grow Global Citizens

By Alicia Benjamin

Knowing a second language in our globalized world economy is increasingly becoming a necessary skill for students in the U.S., as people from diverse cultures are connecting more frequently.

If students in this country want to compete with those around the world, language learning will need to become a central part of school curriculum, starting in the early grades, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

“Employers and businesses are seeking applicants who can navigate the modern global economy,” according to ACTFL. “Simply put, language learning is necessary for students to effectively function in the modern global marketplace.”

Dr. Amy Felicia Eybl, principal of South Academy of International Languages (SAIL) in Charlotte, enthusiastically promotes the school’s language immersion program for young students. Eybl, who has been an educator for more than two decades, has served as the leader of SAIL, formerly Waddell Language Academy, since 2015.  

Eybl said it’s best to introduce international languages to children whey they’re very young. “If they can’t start as babies, then the next best thing is to start in kindergarten,” she said. “The earlier you learn a language, the easiest it is, because their brains are like sponges and they’re just soaking it up.”

According to Eybl and ACTFL, the benefits of language learning include:

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Enhanced Creative Thinking Capacity
  • Higher standardized test scores
  • Higher reading achievement
  • Expanded student vocabulary in their first language
  • Higher academic performance in college   

South Academy of International Languages offers immersion programs in Chinese, German, French and Japanese to students in kindergarten through 8th grades. The school, one of seven language immersion or world language (non-immersion) schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, offers beginning Spanish to its middle school students. Currently 1,300 students attend SAIL.

South Academy, formerly Waddell Language Academy, has been recognized by the Magnet Schools of America as one of the top magnet programs in the country. The local Spanish consulate and Cui Tiankai, the former Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., have both visited the school.

Eybl, a native of Fayetteville, N.C., started studying Spanish in college, but at Ohio State University she met a German man who she eventually married. That’s when she began her journey to mastering the German language. The couple lived in Germany for 17 years and their two children were born there.

Students at SAIL learn the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in the target language. In middle school students study the required curriculum in English and continue to study their target language. 

Learning languages other than English helps students learn about other cultures and encourages them to be open-minded about the world, Eybl said. “Not only are they learning mandarin, or Japanese or German or French, but they’re also learning about the culture — how those people live.”

Studying other languages also opens more opportunities for students in the future. “It’s about becoming a global citizen and understanding world impact,” Eybl said. “A student may want to move to Germany and study engineering. If they’re already fluent, that helps when they’re applying for the job and ready to work in that country.” Learning international languages helps students become effective leaders in an increasingly multicultural world. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”