There are no schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District which have language immersion programs. In a language immersion program 50% to 80% of the instruction is taught in another language. This is meant to teach the child fluency in another language. A language immersion program is for any student who wants to learn a language. They do not need to be native speakers or the same ethnicity of the language.
The benefits of language immersion programs are immense. Native English speakers who begin language immersion programs in another language are often able to develop native-like levels of comprehension. In this era of globalization, language fluency or competency can lead to better job prospects and better networking skills as an adult. Among the economic advantages, in addition to being more employable, are higher rates of college graduation (and to 4 year colleges for Spanish speakers), higher occupational placement, and higher earnings. Considering the diverse nature of the rapidly expanding Elk Grove community, it’s lack of language immersion programs is an inadequacy which should be rectified.
Rapidly Expanding and Ethnically Diverse
According to the 2015 Census, Elk Grove has a population of of 161,084 people with a median household income of $79,487. In 2002, Time Magazine ranked Elk Grove, California as the most ethnically diverse city in our nation. A study by Lendedu in 2017 listed Elk Grove as the 18th best city in the country to start a family. In a survey by Wallethub, a personal finance website, Elk Grove was listed in 2016 as the fastest growing city in the state of California and the 11th fastest growing city in our nation. Our city has a small town feel to it. However, our rapid expansion and ethnically diverse population requires that we keep up with the change in times.
Racial and Bilingual Demographics of Elk Grove & Sacramento
According to the 2015 Census, Elk Grove has 58,726 Caucasians (36.5%), 44,713 Asians (27.8%), 28,990 Hispanics (18%), 16,637 Blacks (10.3%), and 9,576 Multiracial (5.9%). 34.3% of the citizens of Elk Grove in 2015 speak a language other than English. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language other than English with 7.92% native Spanish speakers and 12,763 people (24.7%) who speak Spanish. Chinese is the second most commonly spoken language other than English with 4.81% native Chinese speakers and 7,753 people (15%) who speak Chinese. Tagalog is the third most commonly spoken language other than English with 3.92% native Tagalog speakers and 6,313 people (12.3%) who speak Tagalog. In fourth place, Vietnamese is not far behind with 6,143 people (11.9%) who speak Vietnamese.
The Hmong language, has a relatively high amount of people who speak it, compared with other cities in the U.S. In Elk Grove, 2.3% or 1,185 residents speak Hmong. Many Hmong war refugees resettled here after the Vietnam War.
Comparatively, in the 2015 Census, Sacramento has 155,784 Caucasians (31.7%), 150,153 Hispanics (30.6%), 88,422 Asians (18%), 63,477 Blacks (12.9%), and 23,058 Multiracial (4.75). 39.6% of the population of Sacramento speaks a language other than English. 16.3 % of Sacramento’s population are native Spanish speakers and 79,775 people (47.9%) speak Spanish. 3.21% of the population are native Chinese speakers and 15,764 people (9.5%) speak Chinese. In the City of Sacramento, the third most commonly spoken language other than English is Hmong with 2.65% being native speakers and 13,007 people (7.8%) speaking Hmong. The fourth most commonly spoken language other than English is Tagalog with 7,615 (4.6%) speaking Tagalog.
Comparing Elk Grove Versus Sacramento
According to the 2015 Census of the population of Elk Grove, 27.8% are Asian and 18% are Hispanic. In Sacramento the Asian population is at 18% and the Hispanic population is at 30.6%. Sacramento has a higher percentage of Hispanics (30.6%) and of Spanish speaking people (47.9%) compared to Elk Grove. 18% of the Elk Grove population is Hispanic and 24.7% speak Spanish. Elk Grove has a higher percentage of Asians (27.8%) and of Chinese speaking people (15%) compared to Sacramento. 18% of Sacramento’s population are Asians and 9.5% speak Chinese.
The third most commonly spoken language in Elk Grove outside of English is Tagalog with 12.3% of the population speaking Tagalog. The third most commonly spoken language in Sacramento outside of English is Hmong with 7.8% speaking Hmong. The fourth most commonly spoken language in Elk Grove outside of English is Vietnamese with 11.9% speaking Vietnamese. The fourth most commonly spoken language in Sacramento outside of English is Tagalog with 4.6% speaking Tagalog. The City of Sacramento has language immersion programs in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, and Hmong. At first glance, based on the data, it appears that the City of Elk Grove needs language immersion programs in Spanish, Cantonese Chinese, Tagalog and possibly Vietnamese and Hmong.
Languages Spoken By English Language Learners
According to a report by the California Department of Education in 2013-2014, English language learners in the Elk Grove Unified School District come from more than 53 language groups. We define English learners as those students not yet fluent or proficient in the English language. The most commonly spoken languages by English language learners (recent immigrants) are Spanish (43.8%), Hmong (12.2%), Vietnamese (10.6%), and Cantonese (7.4%). Please note that Cantonese is one of the languages most spoken by English language learners in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Mandarin is NOT on this list.
According to this aforementioned report by the California Department of Education in 2013-2014, English language learners in the Sacramento City Unified District come from more than 47 language groups. Again, we define English learners as those students not yet fluent or proficient in the English language. The most commonly spoken languages by English language learners (recent immigrants) are Spanish (58.4%), Hmong (17.8%), Cantonese (5.8%), and Vietnamese (3.1%). Please note that Cantonese is listed as one of the languages spoken by English language learners in the Sacramento Unified School District. Mandarin is NOT on this list. However, Sacramento City Unified School District does have language immersion programs in Mandarin
Background on Cantonese Immigration
Since the early 1900s, Cantonese Chinese immigrants from Guangdong province and Hong Kong immigrated to the Sacramento area. Cantonese Chinese is the language of Guangdong province and of Hong Kong. Most of the Chinese immigrants to the Sacramento River Delta area speak the Zhongsan version of Cantonese. Locke, California is a notable example of the reason why this is the case. Cantonese immigrants built up the town of Locke, California during the early part of the 19th century.
Hong Kong is a Cantonese speaking territory off the coast of China. China lost Hong Kong in the opium wars. Great Britain obtained a 99-year lease from Qing Dynasty under the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory. In essence, in 1997 China leased Hong Kong to Great Britain for 99 years. In 1997 Great Britain handed back Hong Kong to China. A HUGE EXODUS of Chinese people migrated from Hong Kong. Many of them settled in Elk Grove and Sacramento because there is a lower cost of living here than the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
The Case for Cantonese Immersion Programs
While the number of Mandarin speakers in Sacramento and Elk Grove are on the rise, they still comprise a minority of Chinese speakers in our region. Among Chinese speaking residents of Sacramento and Elk Grove, Cantonese is unequivocally and without question, the primary spoken dialect. Mandarin is the main language of China and the majority of Asians in Elk Grove are Chinese. However, the majority of those Chinese living in Elk Grove actually speak Cantonese Chinese rather than Mandarin. The same is true for Sacramento. Elk Grove Unified School District and the Sacramento Unified School District both listed Cantonese as one of the languages spoken by English language learners. Neither school district listed Mandarin as one of the main languages spoken by English language learners. This supports the idea that the majority of Chinese speakers in Elk Grove in fact speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.
Take a drive down Stockton Boulevard or Freeport Boulevard in Sacramento and note all the Chinese restaurants. Virtually every single Chinese restaurant on Stockton Boulevard and Freeport Boulevard is a Cantonese restaurant. Actually, the majority of Chinese restaurants in both Elk Grove and Sacramento are Cantonese Chinese. This area is full of people who are ethnically Cantonese Chinese and the restaurants cater to the Cantonese population.
The Need For Language Immersion Programs In Elk Grove Unified School District
The City of Elk Grove and the Elk Grove Unified School District has a great need for language immersion programs in Spanish, Cantonese Chinese, Tagalog, and possibly Vietnamese and Hmong. I include Tagalog in my assessment for a reason. I note that Sacramento has a Hmong language immersion program in one school. 2.65% are native Hmong speakers and 7.8% of the population speaks Hmong. 3.92% of Elk Grove’s population are native speakers of Tagalog and 12.2% of the population of Elk Grove speaks Tagalog. As the language in third place, there is a far greater percentage of Tagalog speaking people in Elk Grove (12.2%) compared to Hmong speaking people in Sacramento (7.8%). It is clear that Tagalog deserves inclusion. As the fourth most commonly spoken language outside of English, 11.9% of the population speaks Vietnamese.
Hmong did not place in the top 4 languages spoken outside of English in Elk Grove. However, Elk Grove really has a high population of Hmong residents, compared with other California cities. In Elk Grove, 2.3% or 1,185 residents speak Hmong. This number and percentage is considered to be high. Only the cities of Stockton, Fresno, and Sacramento have comparable or higher Hmong speaking populations in California. In Sacramento, according the 2015 Census, 13,007 or 7.8% people spoke Hmong.
For reasons of practicality, Mandarin immersion programs deserve consideration because Mandarin is the main dialect of China. The Sacramento City Unified School District still initiated Mandarin language immersion programs despite lacking a large Mandarin speaking population. However, it cannot be ignored that the majority of Chinese residents of Elk Grove speak Cantonese, and the majority of Chinese immigrants historically to the Sacramento River Delta spoke Cantonese.
Things To Remember
Based on all aforementioned statistics, it’s apparent that Elk Grove is severely lacking in terms of having language immersion programs. Elk Grove has a higher Asian population than Sacramento (27.8% versus 18%) and a higher percentage of Chinese speakers (15% versus 9.5%). Therefore, it would appear that our city’s need for Chinese language immersion programs is even greater than the City of Sacramento. It is also important not to ignore the history of Cantonese settlers in the Sacramento River Delta. It is a bad idea to replace Cantonese with Mandarin in a Chinese language immersion program. This would contradict the makeup of Elk Grove. I suggest offering both Cantonese and Mandarin language immersion programs.
A Call To Action
In conclusion, at a minimum, Elk Grove needs language immersion programs in Spanish, Cantonese Chinese, and Tagalog. Vietnamese and Hmong deserve consideration. Mandarin deserves discussion because it is an important language in today’s era of globalization.
Now we must discuss the benefits of language immersion and explore utilization in Elk Grove schools. The data presented in this article provides many hard statistics which justify the implementation of language immersion programs. The most obvious next step is that a group of leaders in Elk Grove need to take up this cause. These leaders must thoroughly consider whether language immersion in our schools should happen. If they affirm the need for language immersion programs then plans must be laid out. This includes the best way to begin implementation, seek out funding, and hire teachers.
I personally call upon Elk Grove’s City Council, Multicultural Committee, and the Board of the Elk Grove Unified School District to help take up this cause. Between leaders of our community and discussions with the Elk Grove City Unified School District, we can make positive changes to our city that meet the needs of our demographics. To that end, we have launched an online petition. Please take time to sign it here. Let’s at least start the conversation. Elk Grove is one of the most ethnically diverse and rapidly expanding cities in the United States. If we don’t ride the tide of change and keep up with cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco, we will find ourselves riding beneath it.