Within six years, Mexican education officials plan to have all 12 million of the country’s public primary schoolchildren learning English, according to an article published this week in the Houston Chronicle. (Hat tip to TESOL in the News Blog.) Currently, the Mexican government requires English to be taught in 7th through 9th grades. Starting next fall, a federal pilot program will support 5,000 schools with textbooks and funds to teach English in the primary grades. See “Technology Becomes Substitute for English Teacher,” which Kathleen Kennedy Manzo and I wrote for Education Week in April 2006 for more information about Mexico’s efforts to expand English instruction in the primary grades.
Coming up with enough trained teachers is an issue in expanding language programs in any country, including the United States.
Mexico has always produced some students with strong bilingual skills, particularly through its private school system. I talked with a young Mexican man with impeccable English just last week, when I needed technical support for my personal e-mail account. He had a very slight accent, which made me assume he was a bilingual Latino who lived in the Southwest. I was surprised to learn he worked out of Mexico City; he told me he started learning English in 3rd grade.
Mexico wants to produce through its public schools more of these kind of people, who have strong enough bilingual skills to be hired by an international company.
The country’s efforts to teach more English earlier could also be a benefit to Mexican children who end up moving to the United States. More than half, 54 percent, of this country’s English-language learners who are born outside the United States come from Mexico.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.