Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bilingual Pathos & Mono Myth 2

The first installment of this began last Wed. with my learning four of my ex-first graders had won northwest Denver literary competitions, in Spanish: (

I spent last Sat. morning at the festival where the stories were exhibited with their prize ribbons. I saw the four kids who proudly showed me their certificates, not realizing I was maybe more overjoyed than they were at their accomplishment. We spoke briefly, but I could hear their improved conversational English as they talked amongst themselves.

A distinction vital to all kids communication skills is that between social / conversational language and concepts, on the one hand, and academic concepts and language, on the other. In a strict pedagogical sense, Chicano kids fail in school, not because they can't write or say, "Did you see my prize?", but because they can't write or say, "The square of (1/2 + 1/4) is 9/16," or "Gisa was constructed by the Egyptian slaves, not the pharaohs."

Linguistics says mexicanitos will, do, and have to learn conversational English; it's a necessary step in acquiring English fluency, something they need to order a sandwich and fries, or maneuver an American playground. They learn it from their older brother, cousins, neighborhood friends, and parents who can speak it well. Those who learn it from someone with a heavy Spanish accent in their English, learn it that way.

Last Wed. was the middle of DPS administering a new state English test. For 14 days (16 now), kids were pulled out of my class for ten, thirty, sixty minute spurts to accommodate the testing. For over 2 weeks class would be disrupted so state legislators can be reassured these kids are learning English. Mine failed.

How? Which concepts and language did that English standardized test use to gauge my mexicanitos? The conversational--not the academic, which is what English language-learners need to succeed.

After my yelling at one of the testers about the repeated disruption of my class, I was informed said tester had found I was not teaching my kids conversational English.

Maybe because in my class, I've attempted to aim directly for academic English. I didn't teach my kids the Spanish word for the Sphinx; I only taught them Sphinx in English. Metamorphosis?--the English word. Those that learned what the KT-meteor did, where Madagascar and New York are, or what Christopher Columbus believed, did so without learning those nouns in Spanish.

That's what I thought I was supposed to do! Apparently, my heavy-handed approach toward more erudite concepts and terms won't satisfy the test takers, the legislators, and maybe not the monolinguists.

So, I fell that Wed., not down to where I got depressed, just to where I realized I'm really lacking in the ability to teach these kids higher concepts and scholarly terminology, in English. I've set a new goal for myself: to learn a whole lot more, not so they just win literary prizes down-the-line; but so they'll get scholarships to MIT. What else is a maestro to do?

Rudy Ch. Garcia

1 comment:


Congratulations on helping your kids learn the academic skills that will really count. Conversational language they can get on the playground, but they will get the academic language if you succeed. I feel somewhat similar when I teach my non-native speakers in high school, paving the way for them to take the International Baccalaureate Spanish exam in their fourth year. I feel like I'm hot housing their Spanish acquisition, forcing a speedy growth, when I give them articles in Spanish on the pros and cons of CAFTA, for example, or ask them to research the symbolism in Guernica or Las dos Fridas. On the other hand, when they use Spanish as hospital volunteers or sales clerks, or simply to ask directions, they are getting the conversational and feeling validated as they go.

You are helping raise a generation of well educated, competent, bilingual adults.