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Author Topic: A serious discussion of bilingual education . . .
Icarus
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. . . free from all of the baggage acquired in that other thread.

I disagree pretty strongly with some of the pedagogical heterodoxies presented in that thread. I think compulsory bilingual education is a terrible idea.

My first language was Spanish. I speak it and write it fluently. I agree with those who think it is a crying shame when kids from other language backgrounds growing up in the United States lose their ability to speak that language, along with, in many cases, all connection to that culture. I think one of the two best things my parents ever did for me is not teach me English, because they knew that US culture would eventually teach it to me, but the few years they had before I entered school were their opportunity to give me a strong foundation in Spanish. I'm also grateful for the opportunities to learn Spanish language arts in the same detail that most students learn English language arts at my junior and senior high school. Too many people can speak Spanish but not write it.

I also believe that immigrants to this country should make an effort to learn English. English is not, nor should it be, the official language, but you need to know it to thrive here. Learning English is simply in an immigrant's self-interest.

quote:
. . . the way people can simultaneously believe that A) nobody who moves to America should have to learn English because it takes away their individual rights, even when it keeps them unable to communicate with the people around them, and B) Americans are stupid/lazy/ignorant because they won't learn other people's languages, even when they are never around people who would use that language to communicate.
I have never in my life met a single person who professed either one of those two beliefs. Well, I take that back. I have never met a single person who believed the first of those proposals. Apparently one or two hatrackers believe the second, but that's just pedagogy run amok. I certainly don't know any Latinos who hold that belief.

I have, however, met many many Americans who insist that most Latinos hold at least the first belief stated there.

It's a straw man.

The only people I have ever met who make no attempt to learn English are very elderly people who are forced to move here by circumstances, including family and political exile. Everybody who wants job opportunities wants to learn English. But learning a new language as an adult is hard. Some people take a long time, and some people don't have a lot of success. Failing to learn English has its own built-in consequences. You will find life outside of the barrio difficult. You will not get the same enjoyment out of travel as other people. You have fewer (and vastly inferior) entertainment options. It's harder to get service when you need it. You have a more limited range of jobs available to you, and most of those jobs are low-wage jobs. All of that is a fact of life. The closest thing that real, non-straw, Latinos (and other immigrants, I assume) say to proposition A above is that it is not necessary to Anglo-Americans to add to those consequences by refusing to make accomodations when they are reasonably possible, such as on ballots or other publicly disseminated documents. It is not necessary to heap derision on poor English-speakers because of their inability. Those who do so typically assume a laziness on the non-English speaker that is simply not there. You don't know how long a person has been in this country. You don't know what efforts he or she has made to learn English.

As far as educating English-speaking kids in the US to be bilingual, I believe that this has educational benefits in many cases, and is an admiral thing to encourage. I think we should do just that--encourage it. But programs designed to force everyone to be bilingual are misguided, I believe.

Despite the value I place on my bilingualism and on my hispanic heritage, I did not teach either of my children Spanish. I have received a lot of criticism for this, but I had a reason for making the choice I did. My kids were premies, and are substantially developmentally delayed. They are currently in kindergarten for the second time, and they are far from mastering the curriculum. Long before they were school-age, however, we could see that mastering any language at all was going to be difficult for them. Despite being spoken to only in English, their language use is still more like that of a four-year-old. We have personally known people who were educated bilingually under such circumstances, either by choice, or by happenstance (because their parents, being recent immigrants, could not teach them English, but they, of course, enountered it when they got to school). In each case, the child learned both languages more poorly. (It's pretty sad to not be fluent in any language at all, or to speak two languages haltingly.) We also know latinos who made the choice to teach their kids English only, reasoning that they would likely only learn one language well, and it had better be the language of the vast majority of people here in this country. And in all of these cases, it appears to have been a good choice.

I have documented some of the frustrations my daughters have had in school here in the past, when they were asked to do things that were simply beyond their ability. Well, they attend a school that believes that it would be a good idea to teach everybody Spanish as well as English (grooming them for an IB program, if you can believe that [Roll Eyes] ). All of their worst educational experiences have come in Spanish class. Most of the disciplinary referrals they have received have also come from Spanish class. Forcing these kids who can barely speak English to sit in a class where they are expected to learn another language is not useful, it is stupid.

One-size-fits-all curricula in general are stupid. All they create is new cracks for kids to fall between.

When it comes to the education of immigrant children, or other non-English speakers, I don't think any of the approaches I have witnessed as a student and as a teacher are effective.

quote:
. . . in heavily immigrant areas districts MUST turn to dual language instruction to counteract the damage that is done when a student who has received very little if any academic instruction in his L1 are forced to learn another language while their academics are put on hold.
I have never seen a district that puts academics on hold while teaching students a new language. I think it's an excellent idea, though. The two major approaches I've seen are "bilingual" education, in which kids are taught academic content in their L1, and also take a class in English for _____-speakers, or "immersion," in which kids are dumped in L2 content courses (and perhaps an English for ____-speakers course as well) with the expectation that they should be able to succeed because their teachers use "ESOL Strategies."

This latter approach is the current approach around here. I have repeatedly had students in my class who do not speak English, but some language I do not know, such as Chinese, Russian, or French. None of these strategies (such as illustrations, Venn Diagrams, study buddies, ad nauseum) will help such a child learn Algebra or precalculus when we don't speak the same language. Kids in such an ESOL program are doomed to a lifetime of diminished opportunity, because they are almost guaranteed to receive an inferior education.

The "bilingual" approach may have better academic results--though this is debatable, because good academic teachers who are also bilingual are hard to find. But it disincentivises kids from learning English.

quote:
Being able to learn content in both languages eases the acquisition of the L2 and has been proven time and again to be the most effective way of developing non-native speakers of English intellectually as well as linguistically.
Coming, as I do, from more of a science background, I have little faith in things that are "proven" in pedagogy. In my experience, pedagogical studies tend to prove whatever happy-sounding belief the researcher already has. Still, I am willing to grant that this is true in many cases. But I have seen all too personally that it is not true across the board. This proven approach has been responsible for much heartache in my home.

(Actually, now that I think about it, I do remember one other approach from my childhood. My immigrant friends were dropped back a year, with the presumption that they could more easily learn English by lightening the academic load. Is this what you were describing, David? I don't think this works either, because it still largely assumes that the language issues will resolve themselves. And just because you're doing last year's work doesn't mean you don't have to put forth any effort at all to pass.)

None of the approaches I have seen does much for the English acquisition of students (and they seem inadequate academically as well), which is why putting academics truly on hold while they learn English seems like a good idea to me. To be frank, of what value is math if you live in the US and don't speak English? Of what value is chemistry? Physics? (And what value does any of it have when you lack the tools to learn them well?) It seems much better to me to have an intensive, as in seven or so hours a day, program on learning English. If you focused on learning a new language exclusively for seven or more hours a day, how long would it take you? I expect it would generally take much less than a year. When kids graduated from such a program, then they could enter into normal classes, and they might be a course behind or whatever, but they could then progress on that level, which is better than being perpetually behind, which is what too often happens with our current approaches to non-English speakers in education.

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Belle
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I just read an article about this - I don't think I can directly link to it because it requires registration.

At any rate, it was about two-way bilingual education.

quote:
Promising results from research on two-way language-immersion programs have pumped up the popularity of such programs in recent years.

But some experts say that the three large-scale studies that compare two-way immersion with other kinds of instructional methods for English-language learners aren’t conclusive in showing that the programs are better than other options.

In two-way immersion, native speakers of English and native speakers of another language—usually Spanish—learn both languages in the same classroom. The two-way programs have a growing level of political clout, especially in comparison with transitional bilingual education, in which children are taught some subjects in their native language while learning English with the goal of moving into regular classes as quickly as possible.

Transitional bilingual education programs took a beating after voters in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts passed state ballot initiatives to replace that method with English-only programs.


Emphasis mine. It's that paragraph that made me sit up and take notice - the article doesn't mention any more about thos ballot initiatives but what in the world is that saying? Was that some kind of backlash against immigrants? Anybody from those states know what it was all about?
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Ryuko
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I just read most of a book about this, which Icaro might be interested in, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. I will post to this thread after I get back from class, because I am acutely interested in the subject. [Smile]
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TheHumanTarget
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Icarus-
Well done.

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Icarus
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Belle, in my experience in Florida, English-only ammendments are definitely a backlash thing. All it really accomplished was removing some minor accomodations, like ballots and government pamphlets being available in multiple languages (and in the case you cite, apparently, some educational programs), without really benefiting Anglo-Americans in any way. It was a way for gringos to tell us they were sick of our crap.

That does seem like an oddly juxtaposed point there, though.

I'm in a weird place, because I disagree with both sides, as they traditionally draw the battle lines. While I tend to side with the critics of those programs, English-only ammendments tend to make my blood boil.

(But it's the natural response to the "English is not the official language" argument. It's the classic "Oh yeah?!")

[ February 16, 2005, 03:20 PM: Message edited by: Icarus ]

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Icarus
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I'm intrigued, Ryuko.

Thanks, THT.

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Bokonon
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If I remember correctly, the MA proposal was largely argued from an illegal immigrant angle...

-Bok

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Icarus
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Is illegal immigration a big problem in MA?

[ February 16, 2005, 03:22 PM: Message edited by: Icarus ]

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David Bowles
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Icarus, I'll point you at some resources tomorrow, but experts in bilingual education have demonstrated that you have to treat the students' primary language with respect, as a tool for learning not only English, but actual subject matter as well. Students who are put through a program in which they learn in, say, Spanish while learning English (and then while also learning content in English) have fewer gaps in their academics, and actually learn better as a result. This doesn't happen in very many places here in the Rio Grande Valley, despite the number of immigrants and ELLs (English language learners) we have. Of course, the number-one problem facing dual-language programs is finding sufficiently fluent personnel (we mine Mexico for such people around here). But given people who can teach science, math and history in Spanish, allowing immigrants to learn those subjects in their native language while also studying English is a GOOD thing, Icarus.

Now, I've also made the outrageous and admittedly fanciful proposal that all students be enrolled in dual-language programs so that the US has a bi-cultural, bilingual population (at least). This is so unlikely as to be worthy of being ignored, because we'd need a gazillion teachers who are bilingual, and we can barely get teachers who speak ONE language with fluency. However, as pipe dreams go, I think it's a pretty cool one.

Your daughters are obviously examples of students who would not only NOT benefit from such a program, they'd probably be HARMED by it. I certainly feel for you and wish you had another alternative to the IB school you're forced to have them at. Something similar is happening at IDEA Academy (where I work): we have four special needs students in HS who simply struggle with things like Goethe and Socrates, and I really wish that we could do more for them (two of the students have had to be pulled completely out of my class to be taught by a special ed specialist using an alternative text).

Anyway, those are just a few comments. More later.

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Bokonon
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Ic, honestly? I doubt it. However, despite our image in the res of the States, immigration is a major contributor to the state. If it weren't for immigration, the state would have LOST net population. A lot of immigrants from Puerto Rico, the Domincan, and other Caribbean islands make their way here.

-Bok

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Ryuko
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Oh, it's a fascinating book, and very well written. He talks a lot about the difficulties of going from what he calls the "private" language of Spanish to a public language, English. And, I dunno, it's really fascinating. If you pick it up, I'd love to hear what you think about it.

That's his basic argument. To him, he spoke Spanish with his family and with people he knew. He says that if he was taught in Spanish, it would have shattered that private world.

Though I am not necessarily for the idea of bilingual education (I don't know what I think, I haven't any experiences to bring to bear on it...) I do believe that if we brought in more serious language instruction for younger kids, it would be beneficial for everyone.

I don't know where I'd be today if they'd started teaching me another language as early on as grade school. Probably I'd have taken over the world by now.

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MaydayDesiax
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One of my earliest memories is my mother teaching me how to count to ten in French and Spanish. I remember looking up at her and going, "Momma, those two sound so much alike!"

Bernard and his little sister are bilingual (well, the little one's getting there... She doesn't know Enlgish yet) and I believe that's a good reason why his IQ is a good twenty to thirty points above mine.

My mother taught me what little French she remembered from high school, and I'm now taking it in college. In contrast, my brother never picked it up, so while he's good at math and science, my lanugage skills are better. I want to be able to teach my children French, since it'll be a part of their heritage. Spanish would probably be a good idea to teach in school, since pretty soon it'll be the most widely used language in the States.

At my mother's school they have a French immersion program, and you can definately tell the difference in test scores on who knows two languages and who knows only one. Although test scores aren't anything. I had a conversation with a six-year-old today in French. He knew more than I did.

A Latin course wouldn't be a horrible idea for elementary schools, either. Latin students always do better on those infernal tests than non-Latin students, since so many English words are derived from Latin.

I think an immersion course would be great, especially for Spanish or French, or other countries. In immersion courses you not only pick up the language, but the culture. I think it would be a great step in understanding other cultures and erasing the 'loud, obnoxious inconsiderate American' steriotype that so many other countries have of us, and the steriotypes that we have of other cultures.

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mothertree
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I don't know that it's immigrant backlash. The English only lobby train (U.S. English) that pulled up to Utah a few years ago to get it passed here made it just sound like something to do if you love America. They say things like "Did you know Utah doesn't even have an official language?" Like this is some kind of shocking deficiency. Also, "this doesn't make other languages illegal, it just recognizes the stature of English." They are too smart to actually make it about hating immigrants. It's pretty toothless anyway since any documents for health or legal compliance don't have to be English-only.

The spokesperson for U.S. English is an immigrant who spoke Spanish as his first language. I totally believe he feels learning English blessed his life here and that he just wants as many as possible to follow suit. But codification is likely to make as many people resistant to change as resigned to it.

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jeniwren
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Off-topic, but reading the topic post I'm once again reminded how very lucky Banana and Mango are to have such good parents.
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Icarus
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Aw, shucks! [Blushing]

-o-

::looks down at next post::

::face burns some more::

[Blushing]

[ February 17, 2005, 11:54 AM: Message edited by: Icarus ]

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ClaudiaTherese
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Hatrack is lucky to have you, too. I mean that sincerely.
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Danzig
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quote:
I don't know that it's immigrant backlash. The English only lobby train (U.S. English) that pulled up to Utah a few years ago to get it passed here made it just sound like something to do if you love America. They say things like "Did you know Utah doesn't even have an official language?" Like this is some kind of shocking deficiency. Also, "this doesn't make other languages illegal, it just recognizes the stature of English." They are too smart to actually make it about hating immigrants.
A perverse part of my mind wonders if an opposite tactic might not work. An organization and frontman openly claiming they were against immigrants and wanted English to be the national (or state) language to "put the other languages in their place". Too outrageous for any practical career politician to be associated with. Edit: Even going so far as to claim they hated immigrants.

[ February 17, 2005, 08:49 AM: Message edited by: Danzig ]

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David Bowles
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Here are a couple of really good articles:

http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/the_2-way_issue/index.html

http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/parentsknow/index.html

http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/evidence/index.html

and basically a lot of articles at http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles.php3

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Icarus
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I read the middle two . . . that first one's long! I'll come back to it later. [Razz]
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