Thursday, October 23, 2008

My October column - bilingual education

I always took the easy way out.
In elementary school, I’m not sure I even knew other languages existed besides Pig Latin. In middle school, I shrugged off my 12 weeks of Spanish because my teacher’s constant squawking of foreign phrases annoyed me. In high school, my foreign language requirements were fulfilled by attending two years of American Sign Language classes, which isn’t technically even a different language. When it came to languages other than English, I was regretfully uninterested. I never needed to know Spanish to buy groceries, get a job, or buy a plane ticket, so why should I learn it?
After coming to work in the diverse town of Woodburn, I realized how wrong I was.
Being the education reporter, I am constantly in and out of classrooms where eight-year-olds are speaking in multiple languages, as if it were nothing. I see teachers teaching in Spanish one day, and in English the next, all with the same children nodding along to the instructions. It makes me wonder what I missed out on.
Woodburn is a unique school district. Because approximately 78 percent of its students do not speak English as their first language, the district gets extra funding from the state and federal government to make sure those students know English. This funding not only benefits the English language learners, but also their English-speaking classmates. This extra funding has allowed Woodburn to become a bilingual district, where students, whether Anglo, Russian, or Hispanic, have the opportunity to become fluent in two languages.
Back when I was in fourth grade, my entire class spoke fluent English, so we were never exposed to Spanish at a young age, besides the occasional counting songs of uno, dos, tres on Sesame Street. Looking back on the age when I didn’t know better, I wish I would have been exposed to bilingual education.
I do not want to be bilingual to get a new job or become a translator. I simply want to understand the 350 million people out there, whose native language is Spanish. As an adult, it is much harder to take the time to learn a language, but as a child, I could have been exposed to it every day, and learned it steadily, as I learned English.
I do not regret my monolingual education, I am thankful for all my teachers, especially my mother, who homeschooled me for my first four years. What I have learned from watching the Woodburn bilingual system is that maybe I will consider such a program when and if I have children.
Watching more and more people pour into this land of opportunity, I think it would be ignorant to disregard the benefit of bilingualism, and maybe my children will not take the easy way out.

1 comment:

Tinseth Family said...

Nice article Charissa. If measure 58 passes, there will be no opportunity for English speakers to learn another language and the ESL students will only get 1 - 2 years in their native language instruction. Not enough time. I hope it does not pass.
Nice pumpkin pics - looks like fun!