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Bilingual Education

Jaqui White has one foot in Texas, the other in Mexico, so she is very much interested in bilingual education. She writes:

"At the class reunion at Stanford two or three years ago one of the classes offered to us was on bilingual education. I could hardly wait to attend, since as everyone in the universe now knows, I live on the border where we are 95% Hispanic. After sitting there for two hours with what I assume were the best authorities that Stanford could find, the conclusion was that no one KNEW what the best way was to teach English to a non-English speaking child . After two hundred years of trying in the United States, I could not believe that some consensus had not been determined. After the class I went up to the professor to ascertain whether I had missed something, and was told that indeed, no one knew the best way."

My comment: Jaqui then launches into her interesting ideas on the subject, but I think WAIS as a group should not become involved in technical pedagogical details.

Ronald Hilton - 03/25/99

More on Bilingual Education

Bill Van Orsdol, the producer of the WAIS TV series, calls attention to the authoritative study of bilingual education by WAIS chairman, Peter Duignan, to which we called attention when it appeared. Bill writes:

"Our mutual friend Peter Duignan has done studies of bilingual education and has concluded that it has been a failure. His findings were published in a booklet by the Hoover Institution. He also spoke on this subject to our Kiwanis Club. He said that when Spanish-speaking children were put into this program they were taught in Spanish, with very little English instruction, even though the teachers were suposedly specially trained and got extra pay for teaching in two languages."

Edith Coliver rightly defense the study of foreign languages not only as a means of communication but also as a gateway to understanding another culture: "It would be good if we defined what is meant by bilingual education. The"bilingual education" we had in California, much of it unsuccessful, was really TESOL, teaching English as a second language. What I conceive bilingual education to be is to become equally conversant in another language, in our case, with English as a first language. Any second language language learning in our country is greatly desirable and even necessary, particularly in states with large linguistic minorities."

My comment: this is the traditional viewpoint, which I share. In practical terms, this gives a tremendous advantage to Spanish. After that, which language should have priority? It depends where you are going. At Stanford during World War II, I trained a group of officers who were due to go to Italy, but then plans changed and they were sent to Japan.

John Wonder has had wide international experience. He writes:

" To anyone who has lived abroad and brought up children in a foreign country, it is quite clear that native command of a language is not learned as a classroom exercise. My own preadolescent children quickly learned a foreign language by playing and interacting (the term has been unfortunately cliched) with other children.

I clearly remember that we brought our children to visit a Dutch couple in Haiti and they were playing with the other two boys in the back yard. After an hour or so we noticed that our boys were chattering with the other couple in Dutch. To this day I am amazed, although perhaps I shouldn't be after reading Steven Pinkers "The Language Instinct".

If immigrant children do not learn the language of the country quickly and thoroughly, I would blame the parents for some kind of negative attitude toward assimilating the foreign culture to which they have, in many cases, professed allegiance. "

Ronald Hilton - 03/28/99