Sunday, November 9, 2014

Multilingual Learning

Aria- Richard Rodriguez & Teaching Multilingual Children- Virginia Collier

When I first read Aria, I was sad.  I was sad for the loss of closeness that Richard felt from his family, a separation from their closeness.  As he went on to discuss how the conversations at the dinner table diminished and how "never-mind" (pg. 37) became a common saying from the children to the parents, I grew even sadder.  I was sad for the loss he felt, his culture and attention to detail of language drifting away as he assimilated to the "public language of los gringos" (pg. 34).  "We remained a loving family, but one greatly changed. No longer so close, no longer bound tight by the pleasing and troubling knowledge of our public separateness." (pg. 36).

*I do wonder if all children/parents feel this bond breaking as children grow older and become their own "public individual." (pg. 39).

As I read Collier's article I thought back to the multilingual programs in the schools I have worked in and the schools I went to.  Most programs were taught the transitional method, noted by Collier to be the one of the least affective models.  "To dismiss the home language in literacy development instantly places immigrant children at risk" (pg. 233).  "Research states that first language literacy favorably influences subsequent second language literacy. Once a child becomes literate in the home language, literacy skills swiftly transfer to second language settings" (pg. 233).  There seems to be enough concrete research out there that proves that it is just as important for ESL students to be proficient in their first language, as it is for them to be proficient in English.  We need to give students the opportunity to become proficient in their first language (speaking and writing), and we can only do this by having teachers that are proficient in the language of their student.  Often ESL students are in a classroom with a teacher who is not proficient in the students first language, and may not even speak the language at all.  We call upon parents to help us with literacy of the first language, but often parents are not proficient either.

I was not an ESL student, though I struggled greatly with learning english.  I am dyslexic and I understand how hard language/literacy learning is.  I also know that a strong foundation for learning is important, I tell my math students everyday.  When students come into 8th grade math but still have little understanding of what number sense is we cannot move on.  A foundation for learning is important.  If students are being taught a second language without being literate in their first language we are trying to build a high-rise building on a foundation of straw.


  1. Jenny, I really like that you point out the correlation between language and math: "when students come into 8th grade math but still have little understanding of what number sense is, we cannot move on." Just the same, if a bilingual student doesn't have the prior knowledge of a word, phrase, or concept in their native language, it is nearly impossible for them to come to a complete understanding. As adults, my parents still ask me to translate certain things for them into Croatian so that they have a better understanding of what someone may be talking about in English.

    I also agree that English Language Learners are often put into classrooms with a teacher who is not proficient in the students' first Tolman High School, they have started requiring teachers to return for their ESL certification within three years of a certain date, or within three years upon hire. I think it's wonderful to enhance not only the environment and learning of the students, but also the knowledge background of the teacher.

  2. I do think that it might be time for teachers to get the ESL credits needed in order to satisfy both requirements for students. I know that many teachers in my school do not have a Spanish background and it is what is needed for our particular district.

    I have no background in Spanish except for what I learned on TV when I was a child and maybe in elementary school. But today when I have family conferences, I know what families are saying because of some words that I have heard over and over again. However, I can not respond to them in Spanish, but am able to respond in English to an interpreter. I think it would be great for me to be able to respond in Spanish, but still have not reached the level of proficiency needed to communicate. I know that is a huge deal on my part to learn the language knowing that Spanish.

  3. I was also saddened when I read Rodriguez's piece. It made me sad on a couple of levels. I was sad for him and the loss of family closeness that resulted from the transitional method of learning language that was pushed on him by his teachers. I was also sad for Rodriguez's parents who clearly thought they were doing the best they could for their children by limiting Spanish speaking in the home. I think you bring up an interesting question when you wonder if all parents and children feel this bond breaking as they become public individuals. I think there is always a feeling of a bond being broken as we become adults, but I think it was more extreme in Rodriguez's family's case. Their bond was broken on two levels: a distance from their home language in addition to the distance that happens to all of us as we become adults.

  4. Jenny,
    I have worked with ELL students of varying degrees of proficiency for all of my teaching years, and have always found that the more foundation and fluency they have in their first language, the easier they find it to incorporate a second. It's a combination of the concepts, and the functions of learning, you build up systems within of how to learn and think, and categorize, and connect, and that ability carries with you through a variety of academic experiences. By ignoring or disrespecting the student's first language, you also ignore and disrespect a large part of the individual, and put the teacher's or districts pre-set ideals in front of the student, and I believe that is where we get into trouble in education. I think both articles this week were trying to address putting the student first, and while I too was saddened by the Rodriguez story, I do hope that teachers and districts have evolved, and adjusted to better serve the individual, and therefore serve society.