In high school I took Spanish for two years and then switched to French in college. Needless to say, I have a very limited vocabulary in both languages. Actually, one of my secret life goals is to spend six months in Mexico or Spain and try to absorb more language than “buenos dias” – that is, if Covid-19 ever lets us travel again. So, I was quite pleased to learn that the Carpinteria Unified School District will offer a Dual Language Immersion program (DLI) at Aliso in the fall of 2021.

Perhaps some of you older residents will remember there was a DLI program started here years ago at the Early Childhood Center at Canalino. I remember because my son was in the first group of second graders. The students in this class were half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers. One day was predominately English with help as needed, and the next day was Spanish.

As you can guess, the students mixed socially along lines of girls and boys, soccer and sports, and serious and silly gatherings among other things. It wasn’t long before my son could even roll his r’s, so I was quite impressed. He liked the class mixture and the challenge of looking at the world through a new language. As the school year ended and my son moved on to Aliso Elementary, I felt this DLI program was successful both academically and socially. But the following year Canalino had an increased need for bilingual teachers due to an influx of Spanish-speaking students. So, the Dual Language Immersion program took on more and more Spanish-speaking students and was eventually changed to ESL, English as a Second Language. I always felt giving up DLI was a real loss to the Carpinteria school district even if switching to ESL was deemed a necessary adjustment.

This may be hard to believe, but I taught ESL for three years. Maybe because it was part-time, I loved this job. I also loved it because the children were charming and eager and shy and wanted so much to tell me about their lives. I learned how coming to a new country and not knowing the language impacts young students. We worked mostly orally – singing, learning basic vocabulary, discussing food and families and clothes. I would pick out books with vibrant pictures to read to my students, changing the words on the pages to ones my students could understand and repeat and repeat and repeat. 

By my third year, I figured out what I thought was the best approach to teaching students a new language. First, if students don’t know how to read, they need to be taught the skill of reading in their native language. Second, students need to have a class or classes devoted to teaching the new language; in my case, I taught English. Third, the students need to be immersed in classes where there are mixed groups studying math or history or art or science with at least half of the students being native speakers. And above all, students need to mix socially with native speakers to pick up the correct pronunciation and cadence and rhythm of the language they want or need to know.

And this is why I am excited that Carpinteria schools are expanding the Dual Language Immersion program. Research has shown that proficiency in two or more languages actually helps increase your IQ. Also, DLI programs have positive effects on reading test scores and DLI students do well or better than most in comprehending core content. If you look online, you can also learn that DLI programs help students “increase problem-solving skills, embrace cultural awareness and diversity, enhance communication skills, and strengthen self-perception and identity. It is a huge boost to self-esteem and helps students remain connected to their own culture even while they experience a new one,” according to Participate Learning.

Over this past year, it has become increasingly apparent that we are impacted by what goes on globally as well as what happens here in Carpinteria. Language is key to communication and being fluent in two languages gives individuals increased economic opportunities as well as understanding. Therefore, giving our students a powerful way to learn a second language is not just a huge bonus, it’s essential.



Melinda Wittwer first moved to Carpinteria in 1972 and taught mostly junior high students in Oxnard during her 25-year career. Now retired, she enjoys pottery, writing, books and travel.

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