These days, experts are in general agreement that the best time to tackle a second language is before the age of 6. Hence the growth of immersive language programs at the preschool level, both public and private, and the increasing number of little Houstonians enrolled in them.
Spanish is the most common option, with HISD offering pre-K programs at both Helms Elementary in the Heights and Montrose’s Wharton Dual Language Academy. “It amazes me how quickly little kids pick up Spanish,” says Raúl Ramos, a history professor at UH and president of Wharton’s PTO. “Kids who already know the language become leaders in the classroom and develop self-confidence. There’s also a sensibility that dual kids gain. They become more observant.”
And while Spanish may be popular, interest in Mandarin is exploding. HISD’s Chinese immersion magnet school, which opened just two years ago, has already outgrown its Bellaire digs. Plans are in the works to move the school to the other side of the Southwest Freeway and a brand-new $32 million Galleria-area campus with room for 900 students in pre-K through eighth grade. (As with the programs at Helms and Wharton, all parents living within HISD’s boundaries are welcome to apply to the competitive program.)
Kinderspiel, meanwhile, run by the German Language Center, specializes in Deutsch immersion, and Crossing Borders (with campuses in Rice Village and Spring) offers Spanish, French, and Mandarin to native English speakers. There’s even a place for little ones interested in learning the Queen’s English: Yorkshire Academy in the Energy Corridor, which offers a British curriculum and a student body drawn from 60 different nations. The school enthusiastically accepts non-English-speaking students, immersing them in the language and celebrating their diverse cultures and religions.