I Disapprove: English Immersion as Foolishness and Arrogance

See this link about English immersion education programs. English immersion sounds like something that foreigners do when they want to learn English fast. That’s something such a system is good for. However, at least in California, English immersion is in essence a rejection of bilingual education. Now, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe California’s bilingual education programs were sufficiently flawed as to be worse than English-only. But English immersion to me represents foolishness combined with arrogance.

Foolishness

A better system in many regards is two-way or bilingual immersion. In such a program, children from their youngest years are taught in both the dominant language (English) and a minority language (usually Spanish, though French, German, and Japanese are seen). They receive language instruction—in other words, grammar, composition, literature, speaking and presentation skills—in both languages. As the theory goes, this produces students competent in both languages.

English immersion, as I understand it, is essentially two-way immersion chopped in half, yielding—okay, do the math—one-way immersion! So it means “English only.” The article I linked to above claims that this results in improved English proficiency (likely true) while usually still maintaining the minority language at home. This last point is the tricky one. Yes, many students will continue to communicate with their families in the minority language. But no, this is not equivalent to receiving an education in/on that language. As far as being useful in the workforce, it will suffice for blue collar jobs and nothing more. Do latino immigrants not deserve a chance at reaching higher than that? English immersion sacrifices rather than develops the native language of immigrant students. While English is arguably the most important language to have mastery over in this country, it is foolishness to cast aside easily-developed native-language resources. In refusing to educate elementary-age students in Spanish, we increase the amount of work required later on: ten years down the road they will have to learn a “foreign” language in high school and, instead of learning a third language, they will most likely spend time solidifying their command of their native language (easy A’s). We could have taken care of that in elementary school!

Arrogance

There are many children who continue to be able to communicate at a rudimentary level in Spanish while primarily developing English skills. However, unless they begin learning English at a very young age it will never be like a native language to them. And so they have a complete, native mastery of no languages at all. How demeaning! Most native English speakers in the United States would never bother to imagine what it’s like to primarily speak a marginalized tongue. Some students develop a sort of lingua-cultural self-loathing because they see that their language and culture are regarded as inferior. Now, maybe I’m leaning a little too much towards the fluffy “let’s celebrate all cultures, flower power” philosophy… but, well, maybe a little of that would be appropriate. The greater crime is to raise generation after generation of immigrants with a notion that they must assimilate completely and pretend that their native culture doesn’t exist. If that idea had prevailed during previous waves of immigration we might have lost such cultural gems as bagels, pizza, and polka 😉 And do we think that American culture is so all-encompassingly awesome that we have nothing to learn from those who come to our country? What if from the latinos we learned something about strength of family? What if from the asians something about hard work in school? Or from the polynesians how to relax a bit and roast pigs underground? Along with that, there are surely many things that immigrants can learn from our culture, and there are economic benefits not only for them but for their families back in Latin America, to whom they send substantial support money (aka remittances).

The end. Fin. Конец. Terminus.

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