Foreign Language Classes at the Elementary Schools Recommended for Watertown

A task force visited programs in other towns and recommends having a class where students are taught in a foreign tongue.


A group of Watertown teachers visited schools in the area which offer foreign language classes for elementary school students, and they like what they saw.

The Elementary World Language Task Force recommended to the School Committee that Watertown start an immersion class at one of the elementary schools in the fall of 2014.

Other districts, including Holliston, Milton and Millis, offer one or both of two options for foreign language instruction, said Judy Powers, an English as a Second Language teacher at Watertown Middle School. 

  • One is immersion, where the teacher and students spend the whole day speaking in the foreign lanuage.
  • The second option is Foreign Language at Elementary Schools (FLES), where a couple times a week, each classroom at the school received a half hour of instruction in a foreign tongue.

While FLES reaches every student in a school, Powers said the students do not develop the same fluency they do in an immersion program. The program would also require hiring an extra teacher.

An immersion program only reaches one group of students, Powers said, but they learn quickly. Hosmer teacher Roger Dubuque visited an immersion class in Milton and said he was very impressed with how well the students had learned French.

"I visited a third grade classroom and when you compare them to Watertown High School students, the fluency and ability to debate in French is far superior for the third graders," Dubuque said. "This is not to say anything bad about Watertown High School."

Powers said younger students pick up language more easily, and do not have the same self-consciousness that a teen would have in a classroom.

The Task Force recommended starting an immersion program at one elementary school in town by the fall of 2014, but have not picked a school or language.

Dubuque said that Spanish may make the most sense, since there are textbooks available in the language already and it is widely used.

"Spanish would be valuable in almost any future career," Dubuque said.

The district would not have to add a new position for an immersion program, Powers said, because the teacher could be hired to replace one who retires or leaves the district.  

School Committee Vice Chairman John Portz said he likes the idea, and wondered why not shoot for starting the program in the fall of 2013. Powers said she thinks it is important to educate parents and students about how the program works and to get people excited about it.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said before he could support the program he would like answers to questions about how the program would work, including what would happen to students when they move on to middle and high school.

What do you think? Do you want to see foreign language taught at the elementary schools or should the district focus on other things? Tell us in the comment section below.

K Coyne January 11, 2013 at 07:37 PM
I would love to see an immersion program but I do see some issues with it: a) what if there are more students that want to go into immersion that spots available? How are they chosen(raffle?). b) If we do choose FELS than at what expense of time for other curriculum? (I would like to see more time spent on Math and Science right now in Elementary school(not more homework:>). c) Mark Sideris is right..what occurs with those students who may now be fluent when they go to Middle School. I would think this should continue or at least part of their day should be immersed..so they don't lose what they have gained in language skills. What happens when they get to High School? d) It all depends on if the Town has the budget for this and other enhancements..again which I think is a great idea!


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