The State Department of Education’s “South Carolina Graduate Profile” states that students here should possess “world-class knowledge” that includes multiple languages in addition to science and technology courses.
This year, the state Department of Education further underscored the importance of bilingual graduates by adding an optional “biliteracy seal” to a high school graduate’s diploma if they pass a proficiency test.
This will be an option for Greenville County graduates beginning in 2020.
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In practice, however, the state—and by extension, Greenville County schools—requires only one credit of a foreign language or vocational training to earn a high school diploma.
This means that students here can graduate from high school without taking a foreign language course. It also means that parents must take the lead if they want their children to become fluent in a second language.
The state had about 100,000 juniors and seniors enrolled in its high schools last year; among them, very few – only 509 – obtained university credits for foreign languages through an advanced level examination (for the curious, this represents 0.4% of students in the upper class).
Of those, 3 out of 4 took the test in Spanish, by far the most common foreign language students take in Greenville and beyond.
Other options exist for parents who want their children to master another language, but they are limited.
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Greenville is home to two private foreign language schools – Michelin’s Ecole Française Bilingue and the largely BMW-funded German program at Christ Church Episcopal School – but these are only open to native speakers who are not pursuing a degree in South Carolina.
German School Upstate fills the gap for children who cannot attend Christ Church but want exposure to German early. More than 70 children as young as 4 and 5 years old attend weekly classes in Greenville and Spartanburg, said school principal Hans Schmidt.
“There are people, and a lot of them are immigrants, who realize that with a language, it takes five to six years to make a dent,” Schmidt said. “They start their kids early, even if it’s once a week for two hours.”
At L’Ecole Française, about a third of students have parents who are not associated with Michelin, but all come from the French school system and are usually children of French expatriates, said school principal Nicolas. Brindel. He usually recommends a local public school – Blythe Academy in Greenville – for American children.
“Blythe Academy is perfect for locals who want to teach the French language to children,” Brindel said. “Our school is generally for children who will return to France and go to university in France.”
A Chinese immersion charter school, East Link Academy, also opened this fall in Greenville for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. The school grows by an additional year each year until it reaches eighth grade, and children can start there at any age.
“You can come in cold,” East Link manager Dana Hutto said. “The earlier they start the better, but I’ve seen kids start in sixth grade and go back.”
BMW computer engineer Prabhakar Marry, who grew up in India and speaks eight languages, said he enrolled his children in German school Upstate because of the many opportunities languages had given him.
Dozens of German companies other than BMW are hiring in South Carolina, he said, and German universities love foreign students.
“I would like to send them to college, and it’s expensive in the United States,” Marry said. “I went to Germany last year and nearly 5,000 Americans study there. It will cost you maybe 800 euros per month, and the education is world class.