Monday, May 9, 2011

Supporting Bilingualism

Many of the articles for our last week’s readings revolved around children’s opinions on bilingual education.  The media and press inform the public on the bilingual education debate, but we see it from the perspective of authority figures, researchers, linguists, and parents.  We do not see the side of the stories for the children—the ones who are being educated and experiencing this kind of program.  It seems rather odd to not see or hear about this issue from the perspective of the ones who are directly influenced by the result of the debate. 
Children are not represented in the bilingual education debate because their opinions are not scene as legitimate.  Since children have not had much “life experience” and a full understanding of certain concepts, their opinions are not taken seriously and are disregarded.  In Norma Gonzalez’s article “Children in the Eye of the Storm: Language Socialization and Language Ideologies in Dual-Language School,” she shows how language ideologies are perceived by children and how they are effected by them.   Gonzalez did a three-year study at a Bilingual magnet school in Arizona.  There she observed children in the classroom environment and saw how they interacted with the dual-language environment.  Gonzalez gives many examples of how the students in the program understand the importance of the bilingual program.  One example she gives was when the teacher was giving them a lesson on opposites in language.  She questioned the students what the opposite of “bilingue” was, and a student responded “tonto” which means stupid or foolish.  This student’s response reflects his feelings on those who want to instigate English only education in all schools.  Because the student is the one experiencing the dual-language program, he understands and appreciates being able to speak his native language and learn.  He believes that those who are against being bilingual are “foolish” for thinking that it is not an appropriate means of education.  Lawmakers and those opposing bilingual education do not consider how children in the program feel about their education.
If gaining perspective through a child’s opinions and insights, what may?  In a recently published article in the La Times by Teresa Watanabe, “Dual-language immersion programs growing in popularity” [,0,3841220.story], it goes over the “new face” of bilingual education.  The Franklin Elementary School in Glendale, California, has a successful dual language program where the children will speak in their foreign language 90% of the time and English 10% of the time in Kindergarten through first grade.  Then the languages they are taught in gradually even out to 50-50 by fifth grade.  The program has a wide variety of languages including Italian, German, Spanish, Armenian, Japanese and Korean.  The article talks about the rise in dual-language program education, as well as its opposition.  But what is interesting about this article is that it explains that there is less of a stigma with dual-language programs now because they are being supported not only by native-speakers but by English speakers as well.  When explaining the demographics at the school, they use the word “diversity” when saying that “the proportion of low-socioeconomic families [has fallen] from 77% to 53%” meaning that the school has become diversified now that there are more English speaking, middle to upper class children being educated in that program.   As it is also explained in the article, bilingual education has been seen as “a public handout” for immigrants.   Now since it is being supported by English speakers as well, it is now seen as much more legitimate. 

In a video for called “Bilingual Education,” an interview with a parent of a student who is attending the International School explains why she has placed her children into a Spanish language immersion program.  She explains Spanish as a gift to give her children the opportunity to learn.  It is not only about learning about the language but the culture as well.  The people in the video stress how important it is to learn the culture and how it is such a great opportunity for children to learn a language at this young age.  All of these points—all of these ideas and reasons for why bilingual education is important—have all been made before.  What is interesting about this video is that in the very first clip of the Spanish immersion schoolroom, all of the children are white, English speakers.  Now that it has support from native English and American families, bilingual education and dual-language programs are being taken more seriously. 
The article explains the benefits of learning in a different language and how it facilitates to learning proficient English.  It mentions how many of these dual-language program students excel when they are older at test scores and in school.  While it seems that dual-language is facing less opposition, can this new support for bilingual education be seen as a bad thing?  As opposed to supporting bilingual education because those who are not native language speakers have the right to sufficient education and also they should be able to preserve their own culture, the support comes from a white upper-middle class mindset of putting their children into programs because it is very beneficial to them.  We do see people supporting bilingual education because of the interest in the culture and respect for the language and that culture, it is odd to take a step back and look at how dual-language programs are now gaining support not out of need, but out of personal interest.  Even though this may be so, it does not discount the fact that dual-language programs are beneficial and very important.  Hopefully the support will grow, and all those who are in need or want proficiency in two languages will have the means to achieve these goals through education.

By Ellen Walsh

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