Friday, September 01, 2006

Native Literacy as a Basis for Learning is Not a Liberal Concept
On NPR this afternoon, there was this story, "Spanish Classes for Latino Immigrants," on a program based in Durham County here in North Carolina, teaching literacy skills, in Spanish, to Latino immigrants. They pointed out at the beginning of the story that this is because most of these students have tried ESL classes and failed because they had no literacy skills at all.

As I'm sure is a great shock, there have been innumerable studies done on the benefits of teaching immigrants, children and otherwise, how to read in their native language before attacking teaching them an entirely new one. This isn't rocket science, or biochemistry, or whatever your own particular scientific field of awe and near-impossibility happens to be. It's a very easily understood concept.

And yet, of course, they had to interview an English Only proponent, of a group called US English, who insists that this entire effort is wasted, because they should just learn to read in English at the same time they're learning to speak it. It appears that everyone involved in founding and chairing the group, at least that they mention on the front page, is also an immigrant, but given that those mentioned are a US Senator and a Chilean architect, I doubt they had to deal with learning literacy skills as an adult before trying to learn English. While I find arguments that everyone who moves to the US must learn perfect, fluent, nearly unaccented English to be ridiculous as well, I'm particularly irritated by this argument that would essentially deny both English and literacy skills by making the equally unattainable, because of a misguided and entirely political lack of understanding of how effective literacy teaching works, not to mention second language acquisition in adults.

And in answer to the US English claim that it's a waste of money as well as time, NPR smoothly pointed out that in this case, the government of Mexico is actually funding the project, which I thought was a nice touch.

This is another one of those highly politicized issues in the US that I just don't understand, because the arguments all seem so ridiculous and pointless. If I'm fair, I'll admit that my side of the issue, that the US doesn't need an official language and that educators should be in charge of language learning policies, perhaps seem ridiculous to people on the other side. But I'm really just inclined to declare all those people to be idiots.

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