Film poster for "Speaking In Tongues" with groups of students lines up in uniform.
Film poster for "Speaking In Tongues" with groups of students lines up in uniform.
Amidst the rise of “English-only” initiatives, four diverse American students in language immersion schools open their minds to new ways of thinking


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AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - San Francisco International Film Festival | MEDIA & COMMUNICATION AWARD - California Association of Bilingual Education | RECOMMENDED - Video Librarian

Language • Sociolinguistics • Educational Policy • Ethnic Studies • Sociology

Date of Completion: 2009 | Run Time: 56 minutes​​ | Language: English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin with English, Spanish, and Chinese subtitles | Captions: Yes | Includes: Transcript & Study Guide | Directors & Producers: Marcia Jarmel & Ken Schneider

Against the backdrop of “English-only” initiatives in 31 states, one school district is proving that speaking a foreign language can be an asset. SPEAKING IN TONGUES follows students from diverse backgrounds as they become bilingual in language immersion programs. Their stories traverse a number of perennial challenges facing America: economic inequality, de facto segregation, and increasing nativist backlash towards immigrants. As bilingualism begins to change the students, their families, and their communities, it emerges as a tool for shifting what it means to be an American and a global citizen in a rapidly changing world. To explore the contentious debates surrounding the “English-only” movement, the film turns to Ling-chi Wang, a nationally known civil rights activist who pioneered efforts to establish multilingual education in the United States, and leads the charge in this school district.

Video Librarian
“Makes a convincing case for immersion schools”

George Mason University Virginia Collier & Wayne Thomas, Professors Emeriti, Bilingual, Multicultural & ESL Education
"This exquisite film gets right to the heart of issues surrounding languages in the U.S."

St. John's University School of Law Rosemary C. Salomone, Kenneth Wang Professor of Law
"I plan to show the film to the students enrolled in my Children and the Law Seminar which generally covers children's rights including the right to education."

Northern Arizona University | Cyndriel Meimban, Instructor, Program in Intensive English
"Love how it captures 'in action' many language theories/concepts we discuss in academia."

Spokane Falls Community College Lilibeydy Manrique, Spanish Teacher
"Good argument and very touching through the particular situations of each family. A powerful documentary."

Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College | Suzanne Mealing, Head of English
“As a language teacher, I know how language learning enhances cognitive development. I despair at the paranoia about foreign languages conveyed by some Americans in the film---a similar attitude often prevails in Australia.”

Miami University Leighton Peterson, Associate Professor of Anthropology
“This is a wonderful film about some very important issues on language, education, and America's relationship with 'foreign' languages. A must see!”

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages | Brett Lovejoy, Executive Director
“Provides valuable insight into the issues and challenges that schools across America are facing.”

Rafael Hernandez Two-Way Bilingual K-8 School | Margarita Amy
"Fantastic documentary. Thoughtful, insightful and brave. Bravo!"

San Francisco Unified School District | Junko Tanaka
"Glad to see this film. We need something to educate parents and administrators how important a language program is, and this is a wonderful tool to send the message."

San Francisco Public Schools Francisca Sanchez, Associate Superintendent
“Offers a powerful vision of what bilingualism looks like.”

Minnesota Dept. of Education Janice Holter Kittok, World Languages Coordinator
“I passed it along to several district contacts and organizations. Congratulations. It’s a wonderful piece – a great story that sparks great discussion.”

New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers Diana Zuckerman
"Great news for New Paltz---at the Board of Education meeting after the Speaking in Tongues...the New Paltz School Board stated that they are going to put their full early language program back in the budget!"

Hopi TribeLeroy Shingoitew, Hopi Tribal Chairman
Speaking in Tongues shows that learning another language does not get in the way of learning English. In fact, knowing their native tongue helps our students to learn other languages effectively.”

Six Nations of the Grand RiverM.M.
"This film has given me direction and hope in seeing what can be accomplished. I want to share this with my community, Six Nations of the Grand River. My language is Onondaga and is on the verge of extinction, I cannot speak it...I think this film would show what it is possible."

Asia Pacific Arts | Christine Chiao
"This vision (the one of Speaking in Tongues) of Americans as globalized denizens is timely and empowering, when one of the worst economic downturns in the United States has called for innovation at every level."

San Francisco Film Society | Graham Leggat, Executive Director
"A lively, smart & timely film about the new globalized world."

New Jersey Network | Andre Butts, Program Director
"Learning multiple languages is a current topic in NJ as an education and political issue and in CEO circles that seek 'world class' employees."

Old School Reviews
"It's simply not logical to attempt to teach college students beginning courses in Mandarin, Cantonese, or Arabic. We should be doing this before the age of 13, as all the linguistic research indicates. Children are like sponges before puberty and will absorb whatever language surrounds them; we do them a disservice by exposing them to only one languages. Speaking in Tongues strongly presents the case for multi-language learning and inspires a positive solution to lackluster school system achievement."

The Detroit News

NorthWest Film Forum
"A story about human aspirations and how language divides and combines…really moving.”

Spanglish Baby
“Engaging and eye-opening. If there ever were any doubts regarding the benefits of bilingualism, Speaking in Tongues should do away with them...a must-see documentary.”

Professor Piggington's Econo-Almnac for the Landed Poor
"I enjoyed watching this documentary last night. Highly recommended. With all the controversy over immigration and English only language, it's good to see that some parents are sending their kids to bilingual schools. In the film there was one guy who said that America is the most linguistically rich country in the world. Why would we want to obliterate all that knowledge by teaching English only?"

Kathy Wheeler, middle school French teacher | Gwinnett County, GA
“I have shown it to my 6th graders.…I teach French, and they wanted to know why there was no French. Once we got past that, which didn't take long, I didn't hear a peep---they were fascinated.”

Mehwish Arif | NED University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan
"The movie has objectively dealt with the problems, resistance, and possible solutions in dealing with the social response to multilingual literacies and its propagation."

Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature | San Francisco International Film Festival
Official Selection | Independent Feature Project
BAVC MediaMaker Award | Bay Area Video Coalition 
Best of 2009Asia Pacific Arts Magazine
Golden Eagle Award | CINE
Honorable Mention | Columbus International Film Festival
Media & Communication Award California Association of Bilingual Education
Nominee — IFP / Fledgling Award for Socially Conscious Documentary Independent Feature Project
Selected – Working Films Content + Intent Residency Mass MoCa
Top 5Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival

Cleveland International Film Festival
California Documentary Festival
Guangzhou International Documentary Festival
Kansas City International Film Festival
Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival
Kopkind Grassroots Film Festival
Little Rock International Film Festival
Mumbai International Film Festival
New Orleans Film Festival
Nashville Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival
San Diego Asian Film Festival
San Francisco International Film Festival
San Louis Obispo International Film Festival
Temescal Street Cinema
United Nations Association Film Festival

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
Alliance for Multilingual Multicultural Education
American School of Guatemala
BEEMS (Bilingual Educators) Annual Conference
California Association of Bilingual Educators (CABE)
Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education
Chinese Education Conference (CEC)
Coalition of Essential Schools Forum
Cultures and Language Across the Curriculum (CLAC)
Global Language Convention
Interagency Language Round Table, U.S. Army
Kaiser Permanente’s National Diversity Conference
La Cosecha (Dual Language Conference) | New Mexico
Linguistics Society of America Institute
Michigan Assoc. of Bilingual Educators | Dearborn, MI
Modern Language Teachers Association | Australia
Multilingualism: A Cultural Rennaissance | Fresno, CA
Multilingualism in America | Bridgewater, MA
National Association for the Education of Young Children
National Heritage Language Resource Center (UCLA) | Los Angeles, CA
National Immigrant Solidarity Network
National Network for Early Language Learning | Wichita, KS
Netroots Nation
NYSAFLT (Foreign Language Teachers)
Oklahoma Foreign Language Teachers’ Association
Public Libraries | San Francisco, CA | Bridgeport, CT
STARTALK | Atlanta, GA
The Mandarin Institute | San Francisco, CA
Two-Way CABE | San Jose, CA
United Educators of San Francisco | San Francisco, CA
Washington Association of Bilingual Education | Yakima, WA

Marcia Jarmel has produced and directed a slate of award-winning films for PatchWorks Films. She works as a consultant and impact strategist on a broad range of films, including the Oscar nominee Last Day of Freedom and HBO’s Emmy nominated 50 Children. Marcia has taught both undergrad and graduate film courses at NYU and Chapman University and been honored with residencies with Working Films, the Fledgling Fund, SFFilm, the Kopkind Colony, and BAVC Media Maker. She has served as a juror for the Emmys, BAVC MediaMaker, and many film festivals.


Ken Schneider is a Peabody-winning producer/director who has also edited nearly 40 feature documentaries for PBS, HBO, Showtime and Al-Jazeera. He received a Peabody as Co-producer and editor of Soft Vengeance. He edited the Oscar-nominated Regret to Inform, described by the New York Times as "unforgettable ... exquisitely filmed, edited and scored". Films he edited have earned multiple Emmys, a Columbia-Dupont, three Peabodys, an Indie Spirit and top awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Ken is drawn to stories of war and peace, human rights, artists, American history, contemporary social issues, and Cuba. Ken works in English and Spanish.