Glendale, Calif. school introduces Japanese language program


Gregg, Brett and Tokiko Binkley photo courtesy of Binkley family

GLENDALE, Calif. — On any given day, some 70 students at Glendale’s Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School can be found engaged in their studies, with the youngest among them learning basic lessons about fruits and vegetables. Unlike the majority of their peers across the nation, however, these students are being instructed in Japanese.

The school introduced the Foreign Language Academy of Glendale–Japanese program this fall. FLAG-J, as it is also known, offers two kindergarten classes and one first grade class. New kindergarten cohorts will be added each year as the students advance in grade levels.

The language immersion program, which according to a statement, “focuses on developing oral language fluency” in both English and Japanese, has received some funding from a federal grant.

Equal time is devoted to teaching the students in both Japanese and English.

While Tokiko Binkley has always spoken to her 5-year-old son in Japanese, she’s thrilled with the progress he’s made in the few months he’s been enrolled in the program. Brett is speaking the language more and even writing and reading Japanese.

Binkley said that it was crucial for Brett to speak her native language because her parents, who live in Kagoshima, Japan on the island of Kyushu, don’t speak English.

Binkley, who volunteers in the kindergarten classroom, noted the benefit of children learning a different language and culture at a young age. “That exposure helps them in the future,” she said.

Binkley acknowledged that her son has had some challenges with the Japanese-language instruction, but added that he’s had an easier time than the students who have no exposure to the language.

The students are currently learning hiragana, said Mike Jaffe, a program specialist. Kanji, he said, will be taught in the first grade, and katakana in the second grade.

The program is open to Glendale residents, as well as students from outside the school district who have received a release permit. Enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year begins in March and applications are already being accepted.

For more information about the FLAG-J program or to reserve a spot on a school tour, contact Jaffe at or call (818) 241-2433.

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