How long would you give your child to learn a second language? By learning a second language, I mean being able to speak, read, write and listen to it fluently. They need to be able to acquire new, complex information with abstract terminology in this new language as well, as they are going to have all their classes in that language.
How long for your child?
One of the most important facts I have learned through my ESL classes is that the student’s proficiency is his native language strongly influences his ability to acquire a second language. Students who come to this country with solid reading and writing instruction in their native language tend to pick up English at a more rapid rate than students who had little or poor quality schooling in their home country. I had a young woman who entered my classroom directly from Mexico who’d had excellent schooling and some English experience who quickly learned social language and had just a little difficulty accessing academic language, mostly for concepts that were new to her. However, a student who had entered with little or no literacy experiences would have barely been tapping into social language.
Another thing I have learned in-depth is the degree to which politics has influenced our schools with regards to ESL instruction. There’s a lot of, “Those people are here, they should speak the language!” sort of conversation, and few people seem to want to heed the extensive research that students will acquire English better if they continue instruction in their native language. Not only that, but the result of bilingual instruction are bilingual students, certainly a positive for our country. However, bilingual programs are generally not funded and are the target of politics and the perception that all non-English speaking people in this country are here illegally.
NCLB requires students to begin taking high stakes tests after three years of instruction. Teachers are blamed for their low test scores, but the fact is that it takes four to ten years for students to reach the sort of proficiency that puts them on an equal playing field with native speakers, with the low-end of the spectrum applying to students with solid literacy proficiency in their native language. No amount of requiring teachers to receive ESL training changes that timeline, but that’s the approach in my state and it doesn’t make me any less accountable for my ESL students’ scores.
How quickly would you be willing to have your child be held accountable for her learning via state tests in another language?
Let’s stop playing politics with learning. The kids are here no matter how anyone feels about that, so let’s stop the politics and do what’s best for kids.