Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lost in Translation Part 2

No one's a bigger fan of Mike Winerip than I am, but I think there's something missing from his recent column in the NY Times about Somali immigrants. He suggests that they're being denied translation services, and are therefore unable to learn English.

Actually, regardless of which classes they may or may not be taking, it's remarkable for kids to spend two years in the US without acquiring a significant amount of English. Also, while I do not oppose bilingual education, it is not absolutely necessary. Immersion ought to work for anyone. There's something really wrong here.

It could certainly be the inability of some of these kids to read that hinders them in many areas, but they still ought to pick up verbal English.

Winerip says their "English immersion" teachers explain in English and clarify in Spanish, for the benefit of the majority. If you're not an educator, you may be unfamiliar with specific pedagogical jargon, but we in the business refer to individuals who engage in such practices as "bad" or sometimes, the more colorful "clueless and incompetent" teachers.

If these kids were in my beginning ESL classes, I would force them to speak English, whether they liked it or not, by any and all means necessary. For me, that's fairly standard practice.

Those of us who sat through years of language classes, receiving passing grades, but learning little or nothing know this--translation is not, primarily, how kids acquire language.

Participation is.
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