Teaching – Growing up Bilingually

Teaching is a highly social and contextualized process. That is, it is most effective when contextual factors such as prior experiences, community settings, cultural backgrounds, and the ethnic identities of teachers and students are overtly included in teaching and learning. However, overt attention to these factors is often ignored in schools with Latino, Native American, African American, and Asian American students, especially if they are poor. Instead, these students often are taught from the middle-class, Eurocentric perspectives that shape school practices. Bilingual education is a mess. It looks good on paper. After all, knowing more than one language is a tremendous asset in our society. But the program often falls apart in the implementation because educators tend to put the interests of adults ahead of those of children.

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It appears that children’s native language plays a role in determining some of the kinds of errors they’re likely to make in learning English. In large school districts where there are language groups of significant size, wouldn’t it make sense to place children in classes according to their native language so that teachers can work on the specific problems encountered by each group? While there might be some slight, temporary benefit to grouping children according to native language, there may be more disadvantages than advantages in this for both children and teachers. In the first place, interference from the native language is only one of the reasons children make errors.

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Children learning English make remarkably similar errors no matter what their first language. This fact alone suggests that we should realign our thinking about errors, trying to regard them as marking stages of development or growth in the new language rather than as mistakes that must be eradicated. It would be a mistake to plan our programs on the basis of predicted errors (Leung & South, 1996) . In the second place, many other factors are more important than native language in grouping children. For example, it would make little sense to put a six-year-old with intermediate English language skills into a group of 11and 12 year-olds simply because they all happen to speak Spanish. Age and level of proficiency are at least as important as native language in deciding how to organize Bilingual education classes (Inclusive Science, 2002) .

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