Letters: What Spanish-speaking students need
Vail CO, Colorado
English language debate
Regarding Linda Busse’s letter, “Shouldn’t need Spanish,” my response is to sigh, throw my hands up in the air, and say, “Here we go again.” You see, this is not a new discussion. It’s been going on in this valley off and on, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, for decades. And it’s been going on in this country since its inception. All that has changed are the languages (and cultures) being debated.
Ms Busse asserts that Hispanics should learn English, the “official language of the United States.” I have two replies two this comment. First, Ms. Busse will be relieved to know that, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, Hispanics learn English just as fast as any other immigrant group. The typical trend is that the first generation learns a little conversational English, the second generation is fluent in English and has some fluency in the native language, and by the third generation, presto! Monolingual English-speakers.
We can all be proud that we are very effective at killing any nasty bilingual tendencies our immigrants may bring with them.
Secondly, as was explained by the Daily in a footnote to Busse’s letter, there is no official language of the U.S. This is not by chance ” the founding fathers made a conscious decision not to designate an official language. You see, they came from various language backgrounds themselves.
Had they decided on an official language, it likely would have been German. In fact, the first bilingual schools in the U.S. were German/English schools. So I say to Ms. Busse, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
It is interesting to me that this discussion about bilingual education only comes to light when immigration is a hot topic. I have to ask what the true motivation is. Are you really worried about what are the most pedagogically sound methods for educating second language learners? Great! Then let me tell you that our English Language Acquisition (ELA) students are in great hands with the Eagle County educators. I have worked with these teachers for eight years, and they are highly trained and experienced. They will tell you that their years and years of academic studies and experience show that bilingual education is the best method to teach a second language. Think of any foreign language class you may have taken. Does the teacher stand up in front of the class and speak only French or German (oh the irony)? No, of course not. They use English to explain how the language works. Is teaching English as a second language any different? No! So unless this boils down to a political, xenophobic or racist issue, then I suggest that Ms. Busse talk to the English as a Second Language teachers in her local schools and listen to their vast expertise. If she doubts what they say and suspects they may in fact be motivated by some great conspiracy to keep Hispanics monolingual Spanish-speakers, then I suggest she looks on the Internet and reads the many studies done on the effectiveness of bilingual education. Even the Bush administration found in its own survey of bilingual programs that, when done right, they are the most effective way to teach English language learners.
If you detect a note of irritation in this letter, let me say that it comes from eight years of educating ELA students in this valley, and eight years of hearing the same diatribe. Only when we are honest with each other can we talk about the real issues:
1. How do we come up with an immigration program that works?
2. How do we balance the challenges of teaching native English speakers and English language learners both?
3. How do we, a nation obsessed with making everyone monolingual, compete in a multilingual world?
And finally, 4. How do we have these discussions remembering that we are all, as President Bush said once, “Human beings first, immigrants second”?