Tahlequah may be geographically located in the center of America’s heartland, but it’s not uncommon to hear a variety of languages spoken within the city limits, including Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Cherokee.
October is Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month, and according to Dr. Audell Shelburne, associate professor of English at Northeastern State University, proficiency in multiple languages can open many doors.
“Multi-lingual individuals in education, health care and business – actually in almost any profession – have advantages over their mono-lingual counterparts,” said Shelburne. “Not the least of which is that they are better able to serve a broader range of constituents, clients and customers.”
NSU offers majors and minors in Cherokee and Spanish, and prepares students to teach Cherokee and Spanish through education degree offerings.
“We offer a wider range of beginning language courses for general education, including Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Russian,” said Shelburne. “We offer a certificate in teaching English as a Second Language, which prepares students for working with people whose native language is something other than English. As the world continues to shrink and interaction between countries and people increases, being multi-lingual allows an individual to make the most of his or her skills and talents, and gives them the opportunity to broad their horizons substantially.”
NSU is home to a number of both Japanese and Chinese students who participate in the ESL program on campus which is a division of King George International College of Canada.
The program has 19 students who hail from China and Japan, according to Program Director Julie Gillette. Once they complete the ESL program, they will enroll as students at NSU.
“Being bilingual is very beneficial today, because we have a country that is more diverse in population than ever,” said Gillette. “Also, people travel all over the globe, both physically and via the Internet. If we think that communication is important for a more peaceful world, then being bilingual is very valuable. Anything one does today often involves speaking with [someone from] or traveling to another country.”
Gillette said she hopes her students not only gain career advantages, but that they learn more about others.
“We want them to cultivate compassion for others,” said Gillette. “Communicating with others is a basic way to understand each other, no matter where we live.”
Both Spanish and Cherokee languages have become more commonly heard in Cherokee County, and Tahlequah High School Principal Jeff Thorne said the school offers both ESL Spanish assistance and a Cherokee program.
“We are the largest Cherokee Native American public high school in the country,” said Thorne. “And we are the only public high school to teach Cherokee.”
Tahlequah High School offers Spanish and French to English-speaking students, as well as providing Spanish interpreters for its Spanish-speaking students.
“We have a certified teacher, Kristy Crum, who spends half her day here, and half her day at the middle school,” said Thorne. “She oversees two interpreters – one male, and one female – who are at THS full-time. Their days are split between working before- and after-school study halls, and during the day, they’re assigned to specific classes with groups of Spanish-speaking students.”
Thorne said the ESL program has about 14 students, and most who participate in the program are English proficient after about a year.
“ESL kids who fail a core class are offered an independent study program,” said Thorne. “An interpreter works directly with a student in the computer lab to help them get caught up and able to pass End Of Instruction testing in the core class.”
Before the opening of the Tsalagi Tsunadeloquasdi Cherokee Nation Immersion School a little over a decade ago, the tribe’s language was about one generation from dying off.
The school began in 2001 as a way to introduce 3- and 4-year-olds to the Cherokee language by speaking in Cherokee in a classroom setting all day. It has now grown into a full-scale elementary school for children in pre-school through eighth-grade.
The students are taught all standard curriculum subjects by teachers who speak only in the Cherokee language.
The students not only speak Cherokee, but read and write in Cherokee.
According to CN Immersion School Principal Holly Davis, students enter the immersion school and immediately begin Cherokee instruction. She believes the younger a child starts learning, the better the results.
“The Immersion School is important for our Cherokee culture, because when a language dies, often a culture can die,” said Davis. “To ward off that extinction, the school provides our young generation the ability to speak Cherokee and gain a stronger connection to their Cherokee heritage and family.”
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