Utah educators sign agreement with France

Schools » State hopes to exchange teachers with France
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Teacher Elisabeth Wignacourt admits the first week she tried to teach French to first graders in Kaysville, it was a bit rough.

But after a short time, her young students at Morgan Elementary School caught on.

"It's really amazing how quickly they get the language," Wignacourt said.

Wignacourt is one of three teachers from France that the French government is paying to work in Utah schools as part of the state's dual-immersion program this year. And Monday, Utah education leaders signed an agreement with French officials to continue the cooperation in hopes of bringing more French teachers here from France and eventually sending Utah teachers there to teach English.

"The world continues to be a broader world each day," said Larry Shumway, state superintendent. "Creating these opportunities for students to encounter the whole world in their education is crucial."

In all, 25 Utah schools now have state-funded dual-immersion programs, including the schools where the three teachers from France work, said Gregg Roberts, a world languages specialist at the State Office of Education. Typically starting in first grade, students in the programs spend half their day with a teacher who speaks English and the other half with a teacher who speaks either French, Mandarin or Spanish.

Roberts said dual-immersion language programs will expand to 14 more schools this fall. The teachers can generally stay here for one to three years, Roberts said.

The state office already has agreements with Spain, Mexico and China, which help supply some of the state's Spanish and Mandarin teachers, Roberts said. Utah became the 12th state Monday in the country to sign a memorandum of understanding with a French education system, in this case the Academie de Grenoble, said Kareen Rispal, a cultural counselor at the Embassy of France.

She said the partnership is a good way to build relationships and for France to promote the French language, which is spoken in more than 50 countries on five continents.

"We truly think that in our society, being able to express yourself in another language that's not your mother tongue is something that will foster relationships between countries," Rispal said.

The French teachers added they enjoy the opportunity to see a different culture, practice their English and learn about a different education system. Caroline Hubac, who teaches French at Diamond Ridge Elementary in West Valley City, has noticed American students learn more by repetition and spend more time on reading and math than French students.

She said she uses a lot of pictures and visuals in her lessons to help first-graders understand her as she's speaking French.

Lisa Twitchell, a facilitator at Edgemont Elementary in Provo, said the French immersion program there has proved popular. About 75 Edgemont first-graders are now learning French, and she said the school might have to create a lottery to get into the program next school year.

"These kids will be fluent French speakers," Twitchell said. "It's a real marketability when they get into the real world to be able to speak another language."