OT - Bilingual Education

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Submitted by briansd1 on September 8, 2010 - 12:33pm

I enjoyed watching this documentary last night. Highly recommended.

http://www.pbs.org/speaking-in-tongues/

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?

At a time when 31 states have passed “English Only” laws, four pioneering families put their children in public schools where, from the first day of kindergarten, their teachers speak mostly Chinese or Spanish.

Speaking in Tongues follows four diverse kids on a journey to become bilingual. This charming story will challenge you to rethink the skills that Americans need in the 21st century.

http://speakingintonguesfilm.info/

Submitted by deadzone on September 8, 2010 - 12:57pm.

Learning other languages is fun and intellecutally interesting pursuit. However, from a practical point of view it is highly overrated. Fact is, English is the most important and widely spoken language in the world. It is the de-facto standard for international business, is the mandatory international language of aviation and obviously is the only language necessary to live and conduct business in the United States.

This topic always comes up (mainly by liberals) that our children need to learn other languages to be succesful. I do agree that language learning is worthwile intellectual pursuit, but I am tired of all the fearmongering that children need to learn some other language in order to be successful because that is total bull crap. Unless you are living abroad or working in internation sales positions, there is no practical need to know any language other than English.

Submitted by UCGal on September 8, 2010 - 1:22pm.

There are opportunities to learn other languages even within the San Diego unified public school system.

http://spreckelsweb.net/w/index.php?titl...

Spreckels - one of the elementary schools in University City is a spanish language magnet.

Submitted by Diego Mamani on September 8, 2010 - 2:30pm.

Quote:
This topic always comes up (mainly by liberals) that our children need to learn other languages...

Didn't we have a rule against hijacking a thread for political purposes?

Submitted by nocommonsense on September 8, 2010 - 3:07pm.

As someone who grew up in a foreign country and had to learn English, trust me--it's a priviledge that Americans have to NOT have to learn a foreign language, because everyone else learns YOUR language.

Growing up, I've seen so many extremely talented individuals' futures/careers unnecessarily hampered for their lack of linguistic gifts.
It's a HUGE burden.

I said the above full aware of the benefit of being bilingual, which I am myself. Be careful what you wish for.

Submitted by nocommonsense on September 8, 2010 - 3:11pm.

Now, it's a different story if the parents are foreign born and can impart that skill to their children at home easily. That way the children get the benefit without the burden.

I do NOT want to see learning foreign languages to become a requirment in the public schools. As I stated in my last post, you may THINK you want it now, but trust me you don't.

Submitted by UCGal on September 8, 2010 - 3:42pm.

nocommonsense wrote:

I do NOT want to see learning foreign languages to become a requirment in the public schools. As I stated in my last post, you may THINK you want it now, but trust me you don't.

Don't most 4 year colleges (U.S.) still require some foreign language coursework in high school? Or was that eliminated along the way.

That would make it a good idea - although not required to graduate high school.

Submitted by SK in CV on September 8, 2010 - 3:52pm.

UCGal wrote:
Don't most 4 year colleges (U.S.) still require some foreign language coursework in high school? Or was that eliminated along the way.

Most all of the more competitive schools require 2 or more years of a foreign language. The UC's require two years, recommend more, for entering freshmen. (Curiously, at least some campuses drop that requirement for community college transfers.) Unless they've recently changed, Stanford requires 3 years, Harvard 4.

Submitted by NotCranky on September 8, 2010 - 9:13pm.

I agree with Deadzone that multilingualism is not to worry about from a cold blooded "success" angle.
Holistically speaking I don't see how anyone could be worse off because of it.

I am pretty sure many Americans do not want their children waisting their time getting too serious about foreign languages because it might "hold them back" from something really "important". I think this is more likely true if an attempt to become highly bi-literate is started as late as high school. We started our kids when they were in diapers and while native English speakers we have used Spanish with them a lot at home and in social settings. We also took them to "mommy(and daddy) and me" Spanish classes, put them in a part time not very rigorous bilingual preschool and now have them enrolled in a dual language grade school program. Our kids seem to be thriving.

The administrators/teachers claim that it is proven that a better mind,relative to the individual, is developed from becoming bilingual and that while some kids will not be as strong in English as their peers early on, after 5Th grade the paybacks start. I am not swearing that this is true. I guess there is the possibility that kids will become cerebrally ambidextrous so to speak. They get a better computer than they were born with.

Being a bleeding heart liberal, I am in it to make little impoverished, multi-culti, pacifists out of them.

Submitted by CA renter on September 8, 2010 - 11:58pm.

My mom (an immigrant from Europe) had to learn English in school, and ended up being proficient in four languages: German, Russian, Spanish, and English. She loved to travel, and we lived and visited overseas when I was a kid.

There is no doubt that knowing different languages can essentially "open up the world," enabling someone to work or live in a variety of places, and converse with many people from different backgrounds -- a benefit both professionally and personally. Our kids have been taking foreign language classes since they were little, and will continue to do so for as long as we can make them. ;)

Bilingual education is complex, though, and there are many flavors that seek to do different things. For kids who do well in English and who excel academically, learning foreign languages should be required, IMHO. However, for kids who come here from different countries and who might be handicapped in both their native languages and in English, I think we are doing them a disservice if we don't offer a rigorous English program that strives to enable them to compete with their "native" English-speaking peers.

More anecdote: I used to teach in a school with a 90%+ Hispanic population, most of whom came from (very poor) Spanish-speaking households. There were only one or two classes out of ~12 at my grade level that had "English-only" instruction, and I was one of them.

What I heard from the parents was interesting. A statistically significant number of my students were the "accidental" kids who came later in life after the parents had already raised a batch of older children. The parents told me that the first groups of children received "bilingual" education, because they trusted what the schools told them: that bilingual education was better for their kids. The parents were frustrated and disappointed with the results because, "We came here and worked hard so our kids could be successful, not so they could work in the fields and factories as cheap labor."

It seems that the kind of biligual education their kids were getting ended up being a detriment (at least that's how the parents saw it), and when the "accidental" kids came along, the parents vowed to do things differently, because they wanted them to go to college and get white-collar jobs.

Again, bilingual education is complex, and what I'm referring to is the education of kids in their native language with very little English instruction. The problem is that these kids are ONLY getting "native language" exposure because they hear it in their homes and neighborhoods, and then get it at school. By the time they transition into more English-intensive instruction, they are already very much behind their English-speaking peers, and many never catch up. This is especially true when kids coming into kindergarten receive the most intensive "native language" instruction, and where I think it's most important for them to learn English. After all, the subject matter is much easier to comprehend at that level, and ALL the students are learning basic words and concepts (everyone is learning "this is a circle, this is a square" at that level). It's only for older immigrants that I would suggest native language instruction for part of the day because it's not as easy to translate more complex vocabulary and concepts in their minds.

IMHO, we have it backward. The younger kids should be immersed in English (if it's not their native language), and the older kids should have a stronger bilingual transition program, so they can keep up with subjects like science and math in their own languages.

Kids who are already fairly proficient in English, and who get English instruction/immersion at home can certainly benefit from learning other languages, IMHO.

BTW, all of this is from over a decade ago, so the schools might have changed the way they do things since then.

Submitted by outtamojo on September 9, 2010 - 12:14am.

I agree w/ everything you said CAR-with this to add: teaching non-english speakers in their native language in the early grades hurts them to no end. I grew up in non english speaking househld and went to grade school w/ a lot of others like me. When those others did not do well in class, guess where they were sent, straight to the bilingual class. Did their school work improve? No!
What happened to a lot of those was they got to speak their native tongue all the time and as we got older(high school) they were the kids who never assimilated, the ones who never had any friends that were not of the same race as them. If I had my way, any kinder kid who did not know english would be prescribed 5 hours of Sponge Bob everyday until they became fluent.

Submitted by CA renter on September 9, 2010 - 12:41am.

outtamojo,

Interesting post. You're right about the kids who underperform and how they're essentially pushed into bilingual programs. More often than not, the problem with their academic progress is more due to the parents' lack of education and/or unwillingness to prioritize education. Unfortunately, what these kids need is more intensive tutoring/smaller groups, not bilingual education. These are precisely the kids who are disadvantaged by the bilingual programs, IMHO.

Submitted by Contradictorian on September 9, 2010 - 8:27am.

These laws have nothing against the kids learning other languages; they prevent kids growing up speaking only Spanish. Just what outtamojo said.

Submitted by briansd1 on September 9, 2010 - 8:59am.

CA renter the film is about providing immersion programs for kids in their non-native language (the language they don't speak at home).

For Spanish speakers that would be immersion in English. For English speakers, that would be becoming fluent in Spanish or Chinese, etc...

I recommend watching the film when they replay it on TV.

I believe that in America, people are English centric to their detriment. It's like it's a point of pride not to speak any foreign language (it should be shameful, in my opinion).

In Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, etc, people are all bilingual in their native tongues and English.

Submitted by all on September 9, 2010 - 9:07am.

You guys have it easy.
I studied German in grades 1-10, English 11-12, Russian 3-8 and Latin 9-12, each with at least three hours of lectures/week. And I was on natural sciences track where the emphasis was on math, physics, chemistry and biology (in that order).

The kids on social track had more hours and another 6 years of a Roman language of their choice (either French or Italian).

Even the kids on the vocational track would meet Harvard's foreign language requirement :)

Submitted by deadzone on September 9, 2010 - 9:12am.

Again, why is being English centric a detriment? Like it or not English is the most important language in the world and is the only language necessary to be live and do business in the U.S. If Americans want to learn other languages that is great, but it is nothing but a hobby or intellectual pursuit for most.

Submitted by afx114 on September 9, 2010 - 9:22am.

The human brain is wired to learn language at a very early age. It is a shame we wait until grade school to consider teaching a second language. By that time the ship has (mostly) already sailed.

Babies are born with an 'excess' of language synapses. These synapses either strengthen or die out based on the language(s) a child is immersed in. For example, it is well known that the Japanese language can not distinguish between 'L' and 'R,' but did you know that all babies no matter where they are born can distinguish these and other sounds? They can distinguish ALL sounds of all languages humans speak. It is not until they are brought up in a specific language that their native language processing synapses strengthen at the expense of their non-native language processing synapses being atrophied. And once these non-native synapses are gone, they are difficult to get back. It makes sense -- why spend resources building/maintaining nerve connections that won't be used? This is why it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new languages the older we get.

Language is a purely social experience. Studies show that a child "taught" language by television may not learn anything at all, while a child surrounded by humans speaking will learn it surprisingly quickly. There is something inherently social about language that TVs simply cannot reproduce. Interaction with another human being is required for us to learn language. Sorry, baby Einstein just ain't gonna cut it.

The Charlie Rose show had a spectacular series on the human brain. Check out The Developing Brain episode for a discussion of language and language acquisition by children. Check out the entire series, it's fascinating.

Submitted by davelj on September 9, 2010 - 9:46am.

outtamojo wrote:
I agree w/ everything you said CAR-with this to add: teaching non-english speakers in their native language in the early grades hurts them to no end. I grew up in non english speaking househld and went to grade school w/ a lot of others like me. When those others did not do well in class, guess where they were sent, straight to the bilingual class. Did their school work improve? No!
What happened to a lot of those was they got to speak their native tongue all the time and as we got older(high school) they were the kids who never assimilated, the ones who never had any friends that were not of the same race as them. If I had my way, any kinder kid who did not know english would be prescribed 5 hours of Sponge Bob everyday until they became fluent.

This is an extremely complicated topic and one that I also have direct experience with. And I don't have any answers, only observations.

There are two primary schools of thought. The first says that you want to teach (immigrant) kids the fundamentals of language in their mother tongue and then move them over the English as they establish the basic rules of language. Down in Chula Vista, for example, the bilingual programs try to start out the kids with 90% Spanish/10% English in 1st grade and then slowly add more English so that by 5th grade it's about 50/50 and by the end of middle school it's 90% English. I can see the logic behind this - that is, it looks good on paper - but I think it's difficult to get the English to where it needs to be when both parents are speaking Spanish at home, which is the case more often than not. But if the kid starts into this system in 1st or 2nd grade, it probably works out alright. But if you join later in elementary school, you've probably got a long-term problem.

The second school of thought is immersion. Throw them into the deep end with English and after a couple of years of real struggle they pick it up and it's off to the races. From what I can gather from people I know that are my age and moved here from Mexico as kids (30+ years ago), this is what happened with them. And they were glad for it. Most of these folks think the bilingual programs do more harm than good because they enable the kids to hang onto their Spanish. But these folks are also from households that basically stopped speaking Spanish in the home once they moved to California. A friend of mine who moved from Mexico when he was 7 said his parents insisted the whole family speak in English when they moved to California, despite the fact that their English wasn't very good. But they learned quickly.

Anyhow, my point is that each school of thought has its proponents. I don't know which one is better and I suspect it depends on the circumstances.

Submitted by GH on September 9, 2010 - 9:48am.

I assume "Spanish" is what is being pushed for. More useful though in the business world, I would prefer to see Chinese taught, or perhaps French or German.

Submitted by NotCranky on September 9, 2010 - 9:59am.

http://video.pbs.org/searchForm/?q=speak...

PBS is streaming the videos. The site offers a version with Spanish and a version with Chinese subtitles.
Thanks for posting the topic Brian.

With regards to progress made by English language learners in the programs, I have the following small case study:

We have boys in first grade and second. Both started in kindergarten classes made of 10 Spanish dominant children and 10 English dominant children. I talked with my boys on the way to school and asked them which kids were most bi-literate. Top 5 in both class came from Spanish dominant households. This is totally unofficial but perhaps a good guide. A few of the top students in English come from Spanish dominant households.My older kid can read in English great. For example, he is in the second grade and reads our subscription of National Geographic more than I do. There are a few Native Spanish speakers right there with him. He is a little slower with Spanish than his younger brother but is starting to flourish.

There is a tendency for kids to socialize along racial lines. They are just imitating their parents Hispanic or other wise who have no choice. They do come out of it much more quickly than if they were struggling in English only or some old school bilingual education environment exclusively comprised of one race or limguistic group. Makes sense too because they are sharing and experience with children from the dominant culture from day one.

All programs have problems and I am not the super defender of any of them. It does appear that some of the other posters on this thread are entrenched in something negative.

Submitted by weberlin on September 9, 2010 - 10:38am.

As a nation, the US is benefited from a population that is proficient in communicating in English. As individual people, citizens in the US are benefited from multilingual proficiency.

I strongly believe that all immigrants to the US should be proficient in English. If not, they must attempt to learn English once they get here.

Having government forms printed in foreign languages, and government employees be proficient in foreign languages is a great tool for transitioning immigrants to life in the US. However, these transitional tools should not become a crutch and excuse to not assimilate to this nations standard language: English.

Submitted by NotCranky on September 9, 2010 - 11:11am.

GH wrote:
I assume "Spanish" is what is being pushed for. More useful though in the business world, I would prefer to see Chinese taught, or perhaps French or German.

I think the languages are generally based on size of dominant and minority cultures prevalent. That makes sense to me.

http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7...

In my mind the above link provides some direction on choosing the relative global value of languages.The extra advantage with Spanish is that a sharp person who becomes English/Spanish bi-literate early on will easily aquire Portuguese and perhaps even Italian and French too.

Chinese is a good or best choice for some people.
Spanish is best or second best generally speaking depending on how you view these things.From California I like them both.

I have a hard time taking up a defense for French or German as being better than Spanish, especially in Southern California or other locations where dual language is prevalent in the U.S.A.

French and German have the negative that high percentages of the populations using those languages are bilingual/multilingual,including lots of English proficient people who also have an education on par with what Americans aim for. If I were worried about it from a "success" point of view, I would like something that makes my kids unique in a larger population while being sensitive to the geographical location of that population.

Submitted by afx114 on September 9, 2010 - 11:46am.

I've mentioned this before in previous discussions, but one thing natives don't seem to realize is that assimilation can never be instant. You always carry with you a part of your past. Full assimilation takes generations, usually three, at which time the original immigrant's culture is all but lost.

1) Immigrant arrives, sticks mostly with their native culture/language/etc.
2) Immigrant's children are "inbetweeners." They have one foot in each culture, speak both languages and have embraced their new culture, but still think fondly of their parents' culture.
3) Immigrant's grandchildren are fully assimilated. Most of their grandparent's language/culture is lost. 100% KFC/Taco Bell/Justin Beiber/America Fuk Yah!

Anecdotally I've seen this in many immigrant families, no matter where they are from (China, Mexico, etc). I see grandparents (original immigrants) who can't communicate with their grandchildren due to the language differences. And the grandchildren look at their grandparents as a relic from another world to the point of being embarrassed that their grandparents don't speak the language or eat "weird non-American food."

This is why I believe the call for instant assimilation is unwarranted. It will happen naturally over time. It always has and always will.

Submitted by weberlin on September 9, 2010 - 12:01pm.

afx114 wrote:
I've mentioned this before in previous discussions, but one thing natives don't seem to realize is that assimilation can never be instant.

Who said anything about instant assimilation (other than you)?

Immigrant assimilation in the US starts with language. Can you imagine someone moving to China without expecting to learn Chinese?

Let's be clear about what assimilation means. It does not mean abandoning historical cultural practices or language. Assimilation means adjusting to and adopting to the established practices of the new country.

Obviously, this takes time, and will vary for older vs. younger immigrants. Regardless, anyone who immigrates to the US should make efforts to become proficient in English.

Submitted by afx114 on September 9, 2010 - 12:15pm.

weberlin wrote:
Who said anything about instant assimilation (other than you)?

Immigrant assimilation in the US starts with language. Can you imagine someone moving to China without expecting to learn Chinese?

Let's be clear about what assimilation means. It does not mean abandoning historical cultural practices or language. Assimilation means adjusting to and adopting to the established practices of the new country.

Obviously, this takes time, and will vary for older vs. younger immigrants. Regardless, anyone who immigrates to the US should make efforts to become proficient in English.

No need to get defensive, I was simply sharing my thoughts on the subject. I agree with you that efforts should be made to learn the language of whatever country one moves to. My point is that if it doesn't happen, it's not a big deal. If I moved to China and made no attempt to learn Chinese, how is that an affront to China? No doubt my children and their children would be speaking Chinese quicker and better than myself. I don't see a problem with this, but I guess apparently some people do.

Submitted by briansd1 on September 9, 2010 - 12:21pm.

weberlin wrote:
Regardless, anyone who immigrates to the US should make efforts to become proficient in English.

In a globalized world, that's not so true anymore. People may come here for work and education and leave later.

Americans may have to go work abroad in search of professional opportunities. There are already millions of Americans who live and work abroad.

Submitted by briansd1 on September 9, 2010 - 12:22pm.

afx114 wrote:

The Charlie Rose show had a spectacular series on the human brain. Check out The Developing Brain episode for a discussion of language and language acquisition by children. Check out the entire series, it's fascinating.

Very good recommendation.

Submitted by briansd1 on September 9, 2010 - 12:29pm.

deadzone wrote:
Again, why is being English centric a detriment? Like it or not English is the most important language in the world and is the only language necessary to be live and do business in the U.S. If Americans want to learn other languages that is great, but it is nothing but a hobby or intellectual pursuit for most.

It's a detriment because a foreign language is what makes a well-rounded person with an open perspective on the world.

Music, arts, literature, history, and sports also make for a well-rounded education.

I find that people who speak a foreign language are much more comfortable with themselves and don't feel "threatened" when they hear a foreign language they don't understand.

Submitted by weberlin on September 9, 2010 - 12:46pm.

Briansd1,

We have visas for students and workers that you are talking about. The people looking for an academic/work experience who don't want to live in the US, were probably required to take English language courses in their native country.

My use of the term 'immigrant' was a specific reference to people who are trying to obtain citizenship. In the intro clip to the PBS documentary, there were two immigrant parents who argued for more English language instruction for their children. These parents realize that their kids' command of the English language is directly related to their ability to succeed here.

Of the millions of Americans working abroad, I am confident that a significant percentage of this population made some effort to learn the language of the country they planned to work in.

To me, it's pretty simple: if you're going to a foreign country for an extended period of time, learn the native language.

Submitted by deadzone on September 9, 2010 - 12:38pm.

briansd1 wrote:
weberlin wrote:
Regardless, anyone who immigrates to the US should make efforts to become proficient in English.

In a globalized world, that's not so true anymore. People may come here for work and education and leave later.

Brian, your statement makes no sense. People who come here for work and education (particularly work) damn well better be proficient in English or they are going to have a hard time.

Submitted by davelj on September 9, 2010 - 12:43pm.

I could make the argument that it's beneficial to a large segment of the population for a certain portion of the population NOT to be literate in English, as it largely relegates the latter to menial work that no one else wants to do.

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