On April 26, 2022, the district board of trustees of Orange County, California’s Laguna Road Elementary School approved the initiation of a Korean Dual Language Program at its elementary school. This will be Orange County’s second elementary school to have a Korean dual language program after Anaheim Elementary School District and is one of several biliteracy programs in the county, most of which are of Spanish-English instruction.
Approximately 20% of United States’s population speaks more than one language. Dual-language education beginning in elementary schools offers students the opportunity to advance their communication skills during their critical acquisition period, the window of time during which language-learning ability is at its peak. Therefore, Laguna Road Elementary’s program’s target audience of children maximizes the potential of learners’ ability to achieve proficiency. The dual-language classrooms will employ a 50:50 model, dividing education in both languages equally using both the district curriculum as well as a separate Korean instructional curriculum. According to program specialist Nadia Williams, the curriculum is intended to equip students with the “tools needed to thrive in a multicultural society.”
Dual-language programs not only have cultural benefits, but cognitive ones, as well. Bilingual people have demonstrated improved performance in tasks involving conflict resolution compared to their monolingual counterparts, and have shown to often outperform monolingual students in school. Additionally, being biliterate improves the ability to learn additional languages.
To test the efficacy of their program, Laguna Road Elementary’s Korean program will be piloted with one kindergarten class led by a classroom teacher and instructional assistant. The program is expected by school district administrators to reach the classroom’s full capacity of approximately 33 students, and likely will also have a waitlist. To enroll in the program, students are required to commit to Korean dual education until eighth grade to improve the chances of continuing Korean language study at advanced levels.
Throughout the United States, Korean language and culture classes have spiked in popularity, particularly in the Northeast and Pacific Coastal regions, where there are large Korean populations. California alone is home to over 540,000 Koreans. In Orange County, where the school is located, Koreans are the second largest Asian population. Additionally, Orange County’s Garden Grove is the sister city of Anyang, which is in South Korea’s Gyeonggi province. Between 2006 and 2016 in the United States, Korean language course enrollment in universities increased 95%, totaling almost 14,000 students across the country. Dual language programs facilitate cross-cultural education exchange, such as Korean international students, which brings $364.2 million dollars into California. The increase in language enrollment is partially owed to the recent popularity of South Korean culture in the United States, including Korean music, movies, and foods. South Korea’s soft power mirrors its strong economic relationship with the United States: In California alone, 86,500 jobs are supported by exports to South Korea, and 9,300 jobs are created by South Korean foreign investments. Dual language programs like the one at Laguna Road Elementary will encourage students to strengthen these connections between South Korea and the United States, paving the way for a closer relationship between both countries in the years to come.
Harini Narayan is a member of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, and a master’s student at Columbia University studying South Asian Studies.