Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Habla ingles?

Are you bilingual? I’m not. I wish I were. I’m not sure when I had this strong desire to be able to communicate in a second (or third) language, but for as long as I can remember my answer to the question, “If you could wish for any one thing in the world, what would it be?” is that I’d like to be fluent in every language in the world. I’d like to be able to communicate with every person I come across. And I don’t mean via charades, hand gestures, and present-tense-only dialogue like I do now. I mean that I want to understand the nuance of each language; I want to perfectly understand the jokes and innuendoes.

I guess it’s not surprising then, that my daughter goes to a Spanish-language immersion school. She’s received nothing but instruction in Spanish since her first day of kindergarten. She’s in second grade now.

I truly think I’m doing my daughter a favor. I think I’m providing her with an advantage that many American children don’t have. I think her bilingual education will make her a more well-rounded student, a more culturally sensitive person.

But will it? And am I?

What if I’ve got it all wrong?

Since starting back to school three weeks ago, she’s really struggling. She’s seemed to have regressed more than normal over the summer, and I’m beginning to think she might be dyslexic.

She cannot read in English yet (which is not unusual in her situation), and her reading in Spanish is halting at best. She read better last January than she does now.

Is it fair to make a kid who is struggling to read, read in a language that is not her native language? Is it fair to ask her to not only sound out the foreign words, but to also have to comprehend them?

Am I one of those parents who is trying to live vicariously through his or her child?

Am I any better than the father who shoots his teenage son up with steroids so he’ll be the football star? (Okay, maybe a bit better than this, but still.)

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

*I* think you're doing the absolutely right thing. Who's to say your girl wouldn't be struggling, if she were reading in English? She's a resiliant little sponge (is that a mixed metaphor?); she'll be okay.

And on a similiar note, I always choose the Spanish option when I'm at the scan-your-own-aisle in the grocery store, and practice the words as the nice robot senora pronounces them. Yes, of course I do it out loud!

Nancy said...

Oh yes, I wish I could speak French.

After living in Mexico for a year in my hippie days, I could order eggs and orange soda, ask where the bathroom and bus terminals are and complete a deal to buy some pot. That was my limit to a new language.

[looks down at floor]

Anonymous said...

Ellie's right, struggle is struggle, what difference should the language make? As for regressing more than expected this summer... it was sort of a busy one for you guys, after all! She'll settle in. Does the school have any resources to respond to your concern about her reading difficulty? Hang on, I'm going to e-mail you a question...

ps - Nancy, you totally cracked me up with that comment

Zip n Tizzy said...

I think you're doing the right thing too. I've always wished that I spoke 2 languages. My mom spoke spanish to me as a child and I started spanish one a million times. I understand a bit, but I don't speak it. It's one of my biggest regrets.
I understand it's really hard to watch your child struggle, but I think she'll appreciate it as an adult.
Maybe her teachers have some thoughts?

Captain Dumbass said...

I remember seeing this guy on the news about 10 years ago. He could fluently speak 47 languages! They took him to one of those gigantic food courts in a mall and he spoke to the owners of every one of them in their native language.

Anonymous said...

very cool - hey, I think I want to be Captain Dumbass for Halloween. Do you have a superhero costume I can mimic?

Aunt Becky said...

I think it's a great idea! It's brilliant, even.

Anonymous said...

We have the same deal here with French -- kids can go to full immersion or late immersion in grade 7. Some kids thrive in this environment, especially when one or both parents are French speaking. I also know a lot of kids who struggle in immersion and are much happier and more productive in an English only stream. Me,I would put her in the English stream. There are many more fun ways to learn a language --spend the summer in some Spanish speaking country or send her to a Spanish day camp in the summer or even wait until she's a bit older and more confident with school. You're not closing the door forever by taking her out of immersion now, afterall.

nicole antoinette said...

I wish my parents would have sent me to a school like that.

Rita said...

We have a few spanish immersion schools in our area, but we chose not to send our kids to them.

From what you're describing, the experience sounds very typical of kids that age, so I wouldn't worry too much about it, if you want to keep plugging ahead.

The big problem here is that the schools go until 6th grade and then they go to one of the other kinds of junior high schools, none of which provide spanish classes anywhere close to the level the children from these programs are speaking and reading. So, these kids eat, sleep, live and breathe in spanish for the first 6 years of their education and then are dropped flat into a regular english-speaking school with very limited spanish language resources, so how does that affect retention of the language? If they're not practicing it all the time, will they lose it and not be bilingual? We live in Minnesota, I should mention, where there is a bigger Hmong population than there is a Spanish speaking population.

The kids at my son's (charter) school who come from Spanish immersion schools are put into a higher level spanish class--he has a 6th grader in his 8th grade spanish class now. They could have put her in an even higher class, but they thought it would be uncomfortable for her to be the only 6th grader in a classroom of high school aged kids. Plus, she's gone from it being all day, every day, to 1 period every day. It's a big change. I hear the same things going on at the public school and the private schools.

It seems those are things that should have been thought about when they devised this school. But, they didn't, so now I feel really bad for the kids and their parents who made this monumental effort to get their kids exposed to spanish, overcame very specific obstacles and then had it abruptly end in the sixth grade because nobody thought to look beyond. Maybe your district has that worked out, but the people I know are really surprised to find this problem at the end of their road.

NucMEd is Hot said...

Even if you do have it all wrong, and I'm not saying you do, you've done it with her best interest at heart. Don't knock yourself.

Anonymous said...

My daughter's school goes up to 8th grade, and then feeds into one of the best International Baccalaureate high school programs in the nation (not that it's necessarily where she would go). The kids also start receiving English instruction in 2nd grade (1 hour a week) that continues to build until in 8th grade, when 70% to 80% of their school day is in English.

There are definitely pros and cons to full immersion schools, but to be truly fluent I think you really need to attend this type of school, or move to a Spanish (or French, or German, etc.) speaking country.

We may have to give it up, but I really hope not. (I mean, geez, I at least want her to be savvy enough in the language to able to by good pot. Right, Nancy?)

Thanks for all of your comments and suggestions. I appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Beth's girl's school goes through 8th grade, as do all of the other language immersion programs here in SD as far as I know...

Unknown said...

It should click and take off soon. Kids learn languages different than adults and as long as it isn't overwhelming her it should turn out okay.

Captain Dumbass said...

Jacquie, my wife says you can just borrow some of my clothes.

Rita said...

It sounds like your area has this better planned out than mine does!

These decisions are hard for everyone, you just have to go with your gut.