ELD Does NOT Replace First Language (If you don’t let it)…

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So, among some of the most important things I am learning about my job, besides all the red-tape, endless paperwork, and testing (I’m really trying to see the point of it all), is that language is very important. Everyone’s language. It just happens to be my job to teach English, which in my state, is mandatory.

Today, I met with a wonderful lady, a grandmother who has guardianship of her grandson. I speak very broken Spanish, and she requested an interpreter for our meeting, which I arranged. I am new to the school as well as the position, so I wanted her to understand fully the reason for our meeting…to sign her grandchild up for English Language support.

Through the translator, I explained how his previous testing showed that he was nearly proficient in English, and that with one more year of daily, one-hour intervention, he could pass, and would no longer need my services. She seemed amenable, but had a concern: When would he learn more Spanish?

That was a valid question, but I explained to her that I do not teach Spanish, that the school I am working for does not have a dual-language program, but many schools in our district do. I did explain that I encourage students to make connections between their first or home language and English: How they share similar structures, such as Latin bases. I always tell my students that it is a great thing to be bilingual.

The grandmother has a valid concern…her grandson is in first grade, and he does not speak Spanish fluently with her. He seems to show no interest. I have heard this concern from other parents, too. They feel that their first language is being supplanted by English. But English is the language of the business world, at least here, and it is important for school, work, and just getting through life. But it should not replace the language one is born into. I tried to make that very clear.

She seemed satisfied with this. I do hope the child shows an interest in learning more about his first language. Like English, it must be practiced and used in order for one to become fluent. Just speaking the language does not make one fluent. I’ve met plenty of English language natives who are not exactly fluent, or proficient…and many were adults!

I will try to support this woman in encouraging her grandson to find connections to his native language while learning English. But my job is to teach him English. I have to teach English to several students with other first languages: Bosnian, Russian, and Arabic, among others. I wish I was fluent in all of them, it may make my job easier. But I can use all the tools I have in my toolbox that are “universal”: Music, Art, shared base languages, for instance…and of course, patience and respect for others’ culture. That is my work.

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