Speaking in Tongues

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Speaking in Tongues TV Poster Image
Docu focuses on benefits of multilingual education.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The documentary promotes multilingual immersion education, detailing the many benefits that immersion programs can have for children. Alternative points of view are offered, but they're not explored in depth or -- in some cases -- presented in a particularly positive light.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The students and teachers are a very diverse group.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary -- which explores San Francisco’s language immersion education program -- promotes the benefits of a multilingual, multicultural education. It doesn't explore alternative views on the subject in depth, and some material used to illustrate the English-only perspective (mostly brief YouTube video excerpts) doesn't paint that viewpoint in the most positive light. Most kids probably won’t be clamoring to see like this, but teens interested in teaching, languages, and/or travel may be curious about how immersion programs work.

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What's the story?

SPEAKING IN TONGUES centers on San Francisco's language-immersion school programs, which are considered controversial by some. The film follows four students -- kindergartner Durell Laury, fifth grader Jason Patino, sixth grader Kelly Wong, and eighth grader Julian Enis -- for a year while they attend elementary schools that provide 90 percent of their education in languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish. It also features commentary from multilingual education activist Dr. Ling-chi Wang.

Is it any good?

This informative documentary focuses on the benefits of immersing children in foreign languages, including better English language and math skills, high test scores, and the chance to become global citizens (participation also offers some students the opportunity to hold on to their first language while developing strong English language skills). The film also points out that multilingual students have potential advantages in the future -- like getting into good schools, finding better jobs, and staying competitive in a global economy.

While Speaking in Tongues underscores the immersion program's successes, it doesn't spend much time exploring existing arguments against immersion curriculum (including lack of funding and English-only legislation) in depth. As a result, it sometimes feels like an extended infomercial for immersion. But it does offer an interesting look at what immersion education is all about and what it seeks to accomplish.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about being multilingual. What are the benefits of knowing more than one language? Are there any drawbacks? What are some of the arguments in favor and against bilingual education?

  • What perspective does this movie take on its main subject? Is it OK for documentaries to have an opinon, or should they be objective?

TV details

For kids who love true stories

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