“Speaking in Tongues” is an award-winning documentary that documents the journey of four children on their quest to become bilingual. Jason is a first-generation Mexican American whose family embraces bilingualism as the key to full participation in the land of opportunity. Durrell is an African American kindergartner whose mother hopes that learning Mandarin will be a way out of economic uncertainty and into possibility. Kelly is a Chinese-American recapturing the Cantonese her parents sacrificed to become American. And Julian is a Caucasian eighth grader eager to expand his horizons and become a good world citizen.
The film begins with an ordinary first day of public school kindergarten– except that the teacher speaks only Chinese. Most of her primarily White and Asian American students look confused but curious; a few nod accordingly. They are all in a language immersion class, where, from day one, they will receive 90% of their instruction in Cantonese. Remarkably, their school will test first in English and math among their district’s 76 elementary schools.
While the kids grow in ease and skill with their second tnogue, the grownups argue about the issues surrounding bilingual language education, citing tax burdens, but Durrell’s uncle praises bilingualism, citing the needs of the global economy. Jason becomes the first in his family to read, write, and graduate elementary school; however, at a school enrollment fair, a Latino father asks where his daughter can learn more English. At another school meeting, an angry Chinese dad says, “We are in America! We need English!”
San Francisco International Film Festival