Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Come On!

I got a really good workout today. I spent 50 minutes on the treadmill and elliptical machines today while watching the Republican Presidential Debate. So many things infuriated me that I think it got my feet moving faster than usual. Now, I'm not one who usually blogs about politics (others can word their opinions much more concisely and eloquently than I can) but there was one topic that does pertain to this blog that actually caused me to say aloud (under my breath) 'fuck you' to the T.V. while I was running.

Now, I'll say right away that I wish I could quote this more accurately but I couldn't find it in my Google search and I didn't catch the candidate's name during the debate (he wasn't one of the top 3 or 4 candidates). Anyway . . . in debating the new immigration reform that is currently being considered, he said that the real issue with that wasn't people overcrowding schools, the health care system, etc., but protecting English as the dominate language in this country (again I'm paraphrasing as I don't remember the exact words). He said that the country is moving towards being bilingual and that is "not good." (That part I do remember.) He was in favor of making English the official language of the U.S. Especially as an ESL teacher it is so frustrating to me that people think like this!

Wake up! Bilingualism does not threaten the status of English in this country, nor is it a handicap to be overcome. Bilingualism is a great resource that contributes to national productivity, diplomacy, competitiveness in the world economy, and (as a Republican should not overlook) and national security. As a teacher and a lover of languages, I strongly believe that knowledge of another language is enriching and fosters understanding of other cultures and can even help in perfecting a first language.

With these sorts of negative attitudes towards bilingualism, I can only imagine what that would mean for education policy. Already states such as Arizona have outlawed bilingual education while NCLB now requires students in the country one year and one day to take the the English Language Arts exam along with native speakers.

I believe that rather than try to eliminate bilingualism we should be trying to promote it. Early on in elementary school students should begin learning a second language. Classes should be offered to help students improve their home languages. (Most of my students speak a broken Spanish and can not read or write in the language although they speak it at home with their parents. They could greatly benefit for a "Spanish for Spanish speakers" class.) Literacy skills are transferable and what is learned in one language can be applied to another. More ESL classes should be offered for parents of students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). Everyone should remember that the goal of bilingual education is to become proficient in TWO languages, not to quickly learn English and then discard the first language. (In NYC this type of program is called "Dual Language" while bilingual education is meant as a transitional stage until students become proficient in English).

While I am on this rant, here are some myths about language learning that really get me going.

*Bilingualism confuses students and handicaps their cognitive growth.
*Young English learners will "pick up" English quickly if they are "totally immersed in it"
*Bilingual education sends the message to immigrants that they can get by in the U.S. without learning English.
*And the worst . . . "My great-grandfather came to this country without a word of English and he succeeded without bilingual education."

Don't get me wrong. I think it is incredibly important to learn English. It is essential to getting a good paying job. What I feel like people don't always understand is that making English the "official language" of the U.S. isn't just about symbolically declaring that English is our dominant language. These types of bills are usually include many policy ramifications. One such bill was proposed in 1981 which proposed to forbid government agencies--federal, state, or local--from adopting or enforcing "laws, ordinances, regulations, orders, programs, [or] policies" requiring the use of any language other than English. Similarly, the "English Language Empowerment Act" of 1996 would have limited the Federal government's ability to communicate in languages other than English and repealed bilingual voting requirements.

Back to the Republican Debate. My take is that the opposition to bilingualism is more sue to a hostility or resentment towards immigrants that being against speaking two languages in order to be a more cultured or well-rounded person. Do you think it would be such an issue if people in the U.S. were becoming increasingly bilingual in Italian and French for example?

I for one would like to learn as many languages as possible. I majored in Italian in college and have studied some French, Arabic and Spanish. When I have kids they too will become bi- or even tri-lingual either through a bilingual program at school or, if the case may be, by learning English from me and (insert language here) from my (future) husband.

Please weigh in on your thoughts. Bilingual Education? What do you think?

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