The two articles that we read this week were very different in that one was more of a personal narrative and the other was a more informative, technical piece. However, both had very powerful insights on the struggles that ESL or ELL students go through when learning a new language. I've never taught ESL or ELL children before, so I have limited knowledge and even more limited experience on the topic. I enjoyed reading both these articles and it gave me a deeper perspective on this subject.
In "Aria," Richard Rodriguez tells his own personal story of what it was like for him as a Spanish-speaking student in an English speaking classroom. He spoke of how he considered Spanish a "private" language, because it was only supposed to be spoken at home, and how English was a "public" language, a language to use in everyday society. Rodriguez talks about how one day three nuns came to his house to encourage his parents to start speaking English at home with their children. From this day forward, nothing was the same. One quote that I found particularly poignant was one Rodriguez remarked, "At last, at seven years old, I came to believe what had been technically true since my birth: I was an American citizen." But the special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home, rare was the experience of feeling myself individualized by family intimates." Rodriguez felt that part of his family identity had been stripped away because his family was no longer speaking their native language at home.
In "Teaching Multilingual Children," Virginia Collier says that everything about teaching multilingual children depends on one key concept- "The key is the true appreciation of the different linguistic and cultural values that students bring into the classroom." She outlines seven key guidelines that are meant to help teachers better understand how to teach English to second-language learners.
This issue is worthy of our attention as educators because both Rodriguez and Collier claim that too much attention is giving on just learning English, and in the process, students' native language and cultural identity is being brushed aside. As Collier remarks in her third guideline, "Don't teach a second language in any way that challenges or seeks to eliminate the first language." I think Rodriguez could relate very well to this statement, as his native language was all but obsolete after the nuns came to visit his home. Instead of English being the be all and end all, bilingual and ESL teachers need to find a way to appreciate the student's native language while teaching them a new one.
As we saw in the Rodriguez piece, there are major consequences when teachers only focus on teaching English and do not encourage the student's native language. Rodrigues remarked about his father (who he always assumed was shy), "But my father was not shy, I realized, when watching him speaking Spanish with relatives. Using Spanish, he was quickly effusive. Especially when talking with other men, his voice would spark, flicker, flare alive with sounds. In Spanish, he expressed ideas and feelings he rarely revealed in English. With firm Spanish sounds, he conveyed confidence and authority English would never allow him."
Where does this leave bilingual learners? Obviously, English must be taught to children that are second-language learners, neither Rodriguez or Collier disputes that. However, the way that English is taught is up for debate. Both authors agree that for a teacher to dismiss the home language of the student and not cultivate that along with teaching them English is doing a huge disservice to the child. Collier also goes so far as to say that enriching the native language of the student will also benefit the other students in the classroom as well as the teacher.
This video chronicles the history of bilingual education.