the whole shebang

October 31, 2006

Bilinqual Education Keeps Kids From Learning English

Filed under: Education — wholeshebang @ 10:25 pm

This was brought up in the last big election, yet not much has been done. I’m focusing on Spanish-speaking students here, because they actually are not a minority.

Bilingual Education can take many approaches, generally lumped into 3 categories (see this Wiki). However, the reality in most towns and big cities is a far cry from anything that helps minorities learn English.

What happens in Massachusetts is that Spanish-speaking children are isolated in classes with most instruction in Spanish. Limited instruction does not help anyone to speak a new language fluently and to be literate in it.

You can, if you pay attention, think of any number of “foreginers” who have been citizens for years, if not decades, yet they still don’t speak English very well. When people isolate themselves in a community of immigrants from the same country as they, they also don’t speak English much outside of school, and their parents don’t learn it at all, so it isn’t spoken in the home.

Have you ever worked with the public, all day, and had a non-English-speaking co-worker who did the same? I recall when a woman from a tiny formerly Soviet-aligned country moved here, and within a week was working beside me at a fast-food joint. The idiotic manager didn’t even put a 3rd person on, although we had a drive-thru and this woman new maybe half a dozen words of English. We both had to suffer through long lines, upset customers, and the challenge of explaining to someone who came from a country where they don’t have drive-thrus that yes, that person in the car really does need a fork (to eat their food at their desk or whatever). Try to explain that to someone who knows about 6 words!

Months later, she was very fluent in English and always getting better. We were both hard workers and patient people. Also, his first year in High School here (as a Freshman), her son was the top student in the entire school. If I visted a foreign country for a few months I would not expect to learn or see very much unless I made an effort to speak the language and talk to the native population every day. This is the only way you can learn a language…by doing.

In contrast, I can think of 3 people in our town of less than 10,000 people that I dealt with regularly. One has been in this country since before I was born, I’m guessing at least 40 years. He and his wife owned and operated a small business for decades here. He only worked in the back room. He can understand English very well, but his speech is not good. His wife, who always worked out front with the public, is fluent and speaks like a native, even though they speak their native language at home.

The 2nd man has been here just as long, and not only speaks horribly but often just uses noises. There are times when I don’t know what he is even talking about. He doesn’t understand a question when you ask him. To be fair, I think part of the reason that he doesn’t understand is he’s been a long-time alcoholic and his brain cells are fried!

The 3rd man, who has been here for at least a few decades, understands English fairly well but does not speak it well at all. He tends to speak in one to a few words as opposed to a sentence, and his accent is still very thick. Again, he and his wife owned a small business for several years before selling it. He spent most of the time in the back. His wife and children, who worked with the customers, are fluent.

Also, in a non-public job, I worked with a woman who was here about a year, and her English was almost as limited as the woman from the “tiny formerly Soviet-aligned country” when she first moved here. We mostly worked by ourselves doing physical work.

Ironically, her son, who immigrated on his own ahead of the rest of the family and found work, was fully fluent in less than 2 years. In fact, due to loss of contact with his family and anyone from his country, he was starting to forget how to write his own language until his family began moving here.

So don’t let anyone tell you that only children learn easily and adults have a hard time. That’s bull.

How Does the United States Compare to Other Countries?

We should really be ashamed of our educational system. There are many European and even third-world countries where students must prove proficiency in one or more foreign languages, including English, to graduate from high school. If you are a technologically-oriented person, you end up conversing with these fluent speakers all the time — and they don’t even live here! Some of them have spent some time in the United States, but many have not.

Constantly, in online communities, you find people who speak English and German, or English and Polish, or English and Swahili, etc. and in multiple combinations. Most do not live in this country.

How to Fix Bilingual Education

What our education system should be doing, but isn’t, is eliminating Bilingual Education as we know it. In its place, there needs to be a transitional system where students engage in learning subjects in their native language, but only for one year. They should be taking an English-as-a-second-language class (focusing on speaking and writing English and conversing with an English-speaking person, the teacher), in addition to taking regular English classes with English-speaking students.

After the first year, native-language Instruction should only be done as extra tutoring as the student needs it, either one-on-one or in groups of less than 6 people. English-speaking and dual-language students should act as assistants to the Spanish-speaking teachers for an entire year and get a couple of humanities-type credits toward their graduation by doing so.

There are teachers who make a bigger salary because they are “Bilingual Education teachers”, so they will make every effort to give you all sorts of data to try and prove it’s effective. But they are biased, and it is so obvious that Bilingual Education is not working.

It is inexcusable for students to be spending more than 1 year seperated from the rest of the class. Even the first year, they should not be totally seperated, they should be phased into spending more time in English-speaking classrooms as their skills progress.

What is the “Right” Way to Learn a Second Language?

Have you ever heard or read advertising for the successful commercial foreign-language courses, tapes, and software? If you have, this will give you a clue. There is a language-instruction company in Worcester county (whose name I can’t recall) who advertises their award winning instruction. They emphasise, over and over again, they way people naturally learn a language, including their own.

We do not learn from a dictionary. We do not learn by first thinking of a word in one langauge and then “translating” it to another. We learn by associating a word with an actual object or activity. When we teach a baby a new word, we don’t say, “A wooden item with 4 legs that people sit on is called a ‘chair’,” we point to the object and say, “Chair.”

Have you ever used The Rosetta Stone software? I was lucky enough to grab up a discount copy (with multiple languages on 1 CD) from an online clearning house just before the publisher decided to seperate languages to 1 CD each, target corporations, and jack up their prices.

You learn by going through interactive, multimedia lessons that show you 4 pictures at a time, with a native speaker saying the word or phrase clearly and correctly. At the end of the series, you can practice, and then do tests that the software tracks. In the practice and the tests, you are presented with the word or phrase, one at a time, and 4 pictures. You must click on the correct picture. There are actually a handful of ways to go through each short series of lessons, practice, tests.

You can switch modes and work at your own pace. For example, one mode will present you with 1 picture and 4 words or phrases. The 4 selections are read to you by the native speaker and you must click the correct phrase. You can practice reading text in the same manner by using the no-audio mode. You can use audio-only mode. There is a speech-recognition mode, providing your computer is equipped with a microphone (most modern computers are). You can practice matching text to audio with no pictures. You can use the mode where you have to correctly type the word or phrase.

All of these options are available in each lesson. Lessons begin with single words describing colors and objects, and as you progress though lessons, you are presented with phrases and sentences of increasing complexity. For example, you see a person doing some action, and you choose the sentence that correctly describes the picture, including the correct verb conjugation.

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