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Multilingualism on Stage in Arizona

By Ettie Zilber
Multilingualism on Stage in Arizona

Imagine a second-grade play as follows:
—“Eh, grand-mère, que vous avez une horrible bouche!” [Oh, grandma, what a terrible mouth you have!]
—“Para comerte mejor!” [All the better to eat you with!]
—“And no sooner had the wolf said it than he made one bound from the bed and swallowed up poor little Red Riding Hood.”
Students at the International School of Arizona (ISA) participated in trilingual versions of two fairy tales in their end-of-year play productions of Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. Grade 2 and 3 students from the French immersion track shared the stage and many hours of rehearsals with the Spanish track—act by act.
The format was impressive. Student teams from the French track presented Act I; then a different set of student teams came out on stage—in the same costumes—to move into Act II in Spanish. They continued to rotate in this way throughout the play. The narrators spoke to the audience in English.
Parents in the audience were in awe of the language skills of their multilingual children, most of whom are native English speakers, or speak a language other than those on display at home. Parents beamed with pride as they actually heard their own children speaking a language that, for most of them, is foreign.
Such events are proof of the language acquisition “magic” that takes place when native-language-speaking teachers deliver a rigorous curriculum to students in a full-day immersion program. Full-time immersion is the best way to learn to communicate in a target language at almost native fluency. Our students achieve academic language proficiency both in English and in the target language.
Bravo and encore to the parents who recognize the value in this approach and entrust their children to us; bravo to the students, who think it is natural, normal, and “cool” to communicate in multiple tongues; and bravo to the teachers who use numerous strategies to ensure multilingual fluency.
Ettie Zilber is Head of School at the International School of Arizona. She has taught at and led international schools in Singapore, Israel, Spain, Guatemala, China and now, in her native U.S.A. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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