Saturday, February 7, 2009

English-Only School Policies

Should students be able to speak languages other than English in school? As part of the English-only movement, schools have prevented students from speaking other languages. In a recent case, a math teacher in New Jersey issued a policy banning any language other than English in the classroom. Some schools ban the speaking of another language even on school buses.

To read more about the New Jersey case, refer to Dennis Baron’s weblog. Dennis is a world-famous linguist, and his blog is an excellent example an educator's use of blogging. Poke around his blog. Save his blog as favorite for future reference. Let us know what you think of Dennis’s blog or the language ban.

14 comments:

travis said...

Wow, I am vacillating on this controversial topic. Well, my first reaction to this was outrage. "What! How can they say that?" I know if someone told my child that they had to speak English, I would be upset. I would teach my child how to be sensitive to other's feelings though. Still, what right do we have to take away another's language or their pursuit of communication? However, upon further reflection, I think I may have said "Please speak English" to my students. For me, in that instance, it is tantamount to whispering. I tell them that other students feel uncomfortable when someone is whispering because they don't know what they are saying. "Are they talking about me?" I always tell students not to whisper because it is rude; now I am not sure that that is true but it usually stops gossiping whispers. With that said, making an English only policy like that, is foolish at best and unconstitutional at worst. If safety was your chief concern, then I think it would be best to rely on your relationship with that student or other students to help you intercept dangerous language that was in another language. Furthermore, perhaps teachers could use this opportunity to learn another language. That would do the trick to.

Carla said...

I have to agree with Travis that my initial reaction was also outrage. Although I think it is important to have a common language and to possibly conduct instruction and discussions in schools in English, it is also important to promote diversity and teach students to respect others. Schools are always focusing on promoting diversity through a variety of different clubs and activities, well what can be more diverse than language? Students should not be penalized or made to feel inferior if they speak a foreign language, they should be respected and made to feel proud of their accomplishments so that they can spread their knowledge to others in the school community. Would it really be a bad thing if other students learned a few aspects of another language from their friends?

Michelle said...

Having just taken diverse classroom,this issue came up. There is a movement headed by one man, whose name I cannot remember, to make all schools in America English speaking only. The view is that anyone who comes to this country should speak English and only English.
The issue of going to other countries came up - If we emigrated to France wouldn't we be expected to learn and speak french? Everyone needs to adopt the native language of the country they live in but that doesn't mean they should be told to give up their native mother tongue.
I feel that students should be able to use their native language along with learning English. Research shows that allowing students to use their native tongue permits them to perform better at school. As a country don't we want all students to succeed? to be able to achieve their best? after all everyone is entitled to a free and public education

Christine said...

I did not read the article on the language ban yet, but I have poked aroung Dennis's Blog. There are some very interesting topics on the Table of Contents that I was able to check out. One that caught my curiousity was about the up and coming use of hired consultants to help expectant parents to name their babies. I thought this was interesting. Personally, I cannot imagine paying a perfect stranger to offer advice in naming my children. As anyone who has had children knows, you get plenty of suggestions, opinions, and recommendations on what you should name your baby from people (including perfect strangers) at absolutely NO COST! I wonder why anyone would feel the need to pay for these services. My advice is for parents to save their money to pay for college!!

Diane said...

What an interesting and contraversal topic. I don't think there is any right answer. My first reaction, unlike Travis and Carla, was that yes, students should all speak english in an english speaking classroom. My basis for this is that although American is a nation of many different nationalities and culturs, if one wants to be able to fully function and understand our country, isn't this an important part in doing so. On the other hand, as I also learned in my Diversity class, is that students learn better in their native language and then should attmept to learn it in english. This being said, should these students start out in an ELL class setting and them transition over. The other side of it though is maybe these student do speak english but like to revert to their own language with their friends. If that is the case, I feel classrooms should be english speaking only. I can envision english speaking students being intimidated if other students around them are talking in another language wondering are they talking about me, are they cheating, etc...I would turn this situation around in my own classroom and if time allowed, have students teach other students their native language. For instance, in a F & CS food class, I would ask students to share what macaroni and cheese is called in their language. This gets everyone involved and participating.

gretchen said...

This topic is so interesting and personal. I think that too often we get fixated on the idea that we all have to somehow be the same. That certain ways are successful, and others not. This language idea strikes me similarly to the idea in the 90's that technology schools were no longer useful and that all students needed to go to college preparatory classes. And during that debate i disagreed, and boy wish we had more tech in this country now, as there are way too many college grads and far too little industrialization in this country today. But, I understand the need to be able to teach in a class with students responding, and participating in English-- aside from that though let's stay diverse. We are not a melting pot, we are a wonderful tossed salad with individuals all together in a bowl. This country, unlike those in Eurpoe and others, was never intended on being one in which all people were the same, we all came from such diverse locations- would we not be changing the actual make-up of this country to make it so uniform?

Just a thought!

Elsa Crowley said...

Having also just take the diverse class, I dealt with this issue a lot last semester. I understand the question about the native language of a country, but I think in one of the texts we read for that class, it was explained that America has no official or national language. While most speak language, there has been no legislature that legally make English America's language. So I don't see how those provisions or policies could get passed. Diversity should be encouraged, not suppressed. Student will learn more from a diverse classroom than a homogenous one. Also, this message of not speaking English can get interpreted by students so that they think their native tongue is bad, which is unacceptable.

Kathy V. said...

I am shocked that anywhere in the U.S. it would be allowed to ban speaking a foreign language! It sounds like we are back in the Dark Ages (Medieval Times)! We should appreciate someone else's language and culture. In regards to schools and buses, any foreign language should be allowed to be spoken. I do know if I moved to a foreign country, I would learn the native language as well as keep my own language. Some people may not have the opportunity to learn English in the U.S., some may find the language too difficult to acquire and then some people may not want to learn English if they have other family members that know English that can do what needs to be done.
Speaking Spanish or some other foreign language and it possibly causing discipline problems, I’m sure can at times be a problem. Hopefully schools can find a way of creating more harmony amongst various cultures to help erode various discipline problems and bullying. We as a nation are still a melting pot of people and we must not go backwards by trying to eliminate foreign languages spoken in some cities, towns, and workplaces. Now we know what it is like to be in a minority when others around you are speaking a foreign language, especially Spanish. I suggest more of us learn a second language to help us communicate more effectively with more people on the planet.
We must get along and tolerate all human beings to make our world a better place. It would be great if we all spoke the same language!

Jill said...

Coming from an early childhood standpoint, children who are not allowed to use their home language (L1) to freely express themselves will not be able to successfully learn a second language (L2), which is English in this case. When they are unable to make direct translations of words to their L1, they will have no insight to meanings, and instead simply repeat words like a trained parrot. When these children are exposed to scenarios where they know the information in their L1 and aren't able to express it in their L2 (English), they begin to feel inadequate even though they may be correct and completely understand the CONCEPT (which is the same in all languages). From there the self esteem goes down and the willingness to participate becomes less and less. I have seen this first hand and it provides no benefit to the student, the classmates, or the teacher. This is true for all home languages that are not English, including children who sign or need to use augmentative communication supports.

With this being said, I understand a translator or translating software for every language is not available in all schools. Using many strategies that we use in Special Education can help... picture cues, story card sequencing, social stories, repetition, short concise statements and directions, peer modeling, exposure to books and other literacy materials, etc. Also, a key component is family involvement. Using members of the family that are bilingual can be the school's greatest asset in this scenario!

Overall, it seems that the writers of this story have not done their brain research regarding language and child development.

Judy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mihalis said...

Yes, this is a controversial topic. However, in simple terms, the United States of America does not have an official language. I heard stories that it was Benjamin Franklin's vote, which defeated Greek from becoming the official language. More recent, both President Clinton and W tried to make English the offical langauge, and again, the bill was defeated. There needs to be....

Anonymous said...

I grew in New York City so I have always been around other people speaking different languages all the time. I also speak another language other than English. I speak Patois which is a dialect from Jamaica so I could never tell one of my future students to speak English only. I love to learn about other people and their culture so I would welcome the opportunity to have someone in my class that spoke a different language because we could learn from each other. We as a nation is becoming so globalize that we need to learn as well as be expose to as many languages as possible if we are going to keep up with the rest of the world. We cannot afford to isolate our students because they will need to have the ability to communicate and colaborate with people from many different countries.

Crystal Perham said...

When I read Dennis's Blog I was shocked. I never heard of such a band in a school. Currently, I work at a very diverse school. We have fifteen different languages at our school. When I walk around the school, I constantly hear students speaking in other languages. It never bothered me, and I never requested any student to speak in English. If we order students to only speak in English, we are telling them that their background is not as important. I believe that students need to be proud of their background, and we as educators should praise this diversity.

Jessica said...

I think this is outrageous. Though I was born in the United States, my first language was not English. My family came to this country to make a new life for themselves and I think that everyone, no matter where they are from and what language they speak, should have the opportunity to strive here. I do believe that everyone should learn English, but there is no reason to "drop" the persons native language. I love speaking Polish with my family and friends and it is something I will never give up..it makes me who I am. I believe students should learn different languages to better themselves and to have the ability. There are countries around the world such as Africa and China who are constantly doing trade with the United States that require their people to know English. After doing a project on ELL programs, those students from countries around the world have great benefits from learning a second language. You never know where you will end up, what you will do and who you will meet and having knowledge of at least a second language will provide many benefits in the future.

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