It’s always struck me as sad that America is composed of mainly monolingual-English speakers. I’ve often wondered, “Why?”, to myself, especially when most people in Europe are fluent in at least two languages. I thought that perhaps it was due to the relatively isolated geographical location of America, compared to Europe, but, realistically, that didn’t make sense to me either. Afterall, America was the melting pot of the world, composed of people from all over the globe.
Unfortunately, America’s language and culture does not reflect the cultures of the many citizens it’s home to. Even more upsetting is the discovery that America’s monolingual attitude stems from a historical trend of fear of different cultures, prejudice, racism, and assimilation. It seems that America’s ugly history of “manifest destiny”, which conquered the land that is now called America from east to west coast by domination and assimilation of other cultures, is still evident today.
I was appalled to learn that the U.S. has a long history of passing laws which not only condoned monolingual-English practices but also punished minorities who continued speaking in their native tongues. For instance, California mandated English-only instruction in schools in 1855. Even the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, which was enacted to provide equitable education to children of other cultures, focused on transitioning primarily to English, rather than embracing bilingualism. To add insult to injury, this act was allowed to sunset in 2002 after the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted. Even more disappointing is that California voters enacted Propsitions 187 and 227 in 1994 and 1998, respectively, both of which restricted public schooling to U.S. citizens in predominantly the English language. Even the laws enacted to promote equitable education to English learners, such as Lau vs. Nichols (1974), were ineffective, due to lack of funding, support, protocols for implementation, and enforcement. Many of the laws enacted with respect to bilingual education seem ineffective due to lack of funding and a clear-cut protocol for how to implement the act. In addition, there is a severe shortage of bilingual teachers in the U.S. Because Spanish is the 3rd most spoken language in the world, teachers bilingual in both Spanish and English are highly desirable.
In the current high school where I am student teaching, about 40% of the student body is composed of minority cultures. Indeed, Mission Hills High is a small “UN” of cultures, with students representing countries from all over the world. I tutor for an ELD III/IV class, where students spend one hour a day in a class to improve their English literacy skills. The rest of the day, these same students are mainstreamed in content classes taught in English, or SDAIE content courses for students that have lower English level proficiency. These students come from Mexico, Russia, Afghanistan, and other countries. Some of these students were born here. Although the ELD program is very student-oriented, supportive, and involved, I’ve noticed there is no bilingualism. Instead, EL learners are encouraged to advance their English skills only, leaving their native tongues behind.
Bilingualism seems to be the best solution for English learners, as well as native-English speakers. English learners transition faster when allowed to continue using their native language. For instance, when allowed to learn content, such as math and science, in their native language, they are allowed to keep up with their classmates and will be able to transition to those classes faster once they have more mastery of the English language. In addition, English learners will be able to master the English language faster if allowed to use their native language simultaneously. Also, because we are constantly advancing our academic literacy in our native language, English learners should be encouraged to continue using their native language to help develop their language skills. This, too, will help advance their English literacy skills, as well as help integrate and process content better. The language center of our brain is a vital part of how we process, understand, and integrate new information. English learners can benefit from processing new content by being allowed to use their native language in conjunction with English. In addition, embracing one’s native language and culture helps students form their identity, raising self-esteem and confidence. Finally, bilingualism is an increasingly desired asset in today’s modern workplace. English learners who become fluent in both their native language and English will have developed a valuable advantage that will make them more marketable when searching for a job as an adult. Hopefully, better legislation, funding, and support for two-way immersion classrooms will become more prevalent in the future. Not only does this help English language learners, but it also promotes social equity and acceptance because native English speakers and non-native English speakers learn to interact with each other and are exposed to each other’s cultures, promoting tolerance, equity, and respect for different races of the world.
· Echevarria, J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. J. (2008). Making content comprehensible for english learners. (3 ed., pp. 2-21). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
· Crawford, J. (1997). Ten common fallacies about bilingual education. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, 1998.
· Gandara, P., Losen, D., August, D., Uriarte, M., Gomez, M. C., & Hopkins, M. (2010). Forbidden language: A brief history of u.s. language policy. (pp. 20-33). Danvers, MA: Copyright Clearance Center.
· Diaz-Rico, L. (2012). A course for teaching english learners. (2nd ed., pp. 115-148). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.