No Language Left Behind


It just amazes me that so many Americans would rather deliberately embrace ignorance in order to exclude some people from our society. With the onslaught of globalization, children today need to be ultra prepared to compete with their peers around the world. I agree with this teacher’s perspective on bi-lingual education.

“Buenos días, maestro.”

“Good morning Mr. U.”

Most of my Latino students are fluent speakers of both Spanish and English; and not just on the playground. They switch back and forth quickly between languages. Looking at my students, our global economy, and their potential professional success in life, I am asking myself if we shouldn’t take advantage of such a promising base and develop both languages to their fullest potential. Let’s face it: Being bilingual puts our students ahead professionally. Imagine an English only speaker and a bilingual speaker applying for a position at a company that deals with Latin America. Who has more chances getting hired? Not to mention that bilingualism definitely generates some personal perks as well.

However, since No Child Left Behind was implemented ever more emphasis is given to English language arts and math. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Bush brought science back into the discussion of top-notch education and global competitiveness. How about second and third languages? Those have been neglected for the longest time and are getting entirely lost due to the direction of the current political breeze. While talking about giving our children a globally competitive education, we declare English the official language. Don’t dare to speak to second language learners in their native language, the reasoning goes. It prevents them from learning English.

Has anyone argued that the new drive for extensive science in the classroom would prevent students from learning math? No! Of course not, because it doesn’t make sense. Neither does learning another language prevent English language development.

Putting aside the competitive aspect of education, how do we define a well rounded educational program anyway? Well, it depends where you live! In this country the focus seems to be very narrow. In Germany, where I grew up and was educated many moons ago, it was common to learn a second language — English — in fifth grade. It was mandatory and has served me well. I started a third language — French — as an elective in seventh grade. Some of my fellow students even took Latin in seventh grade and some humanistic schools offered ancient Greek starting as early as fifth grade, just for kicks! These days around the world, foreign language learning is starting even earlier. By now, there are countries that pilot second language programs starting as early as pre-school. Researchers and teachers realize that early language learning is beneficial to the intellect rather than damaging or preventive.

Some people argue that developing a language other than English should be a decision left to the family. Students who are interested in that pursuit can do so in college if they wish. And anyway, why should the taxpayer finance an additional language program? Well, I have one political objective in common with Mr. Bush. I also want a top-notch academic program for everyone and languages are just a chapter in my book of how to become an accomplished student.

While so many American politicians are working tirelessly to ban any language but English, countries in Latin America are rushing to learn languages like Mandarin.

Zamora already speaks German and English, but she struggles to learn written Chinese characters and mimic tones unknown in Spanish. She persists for a simple reason: China is voraciously scouring Latin America for everything from oil to lumber, and there is money to be made. That prospect has not only Zamora but business people in much of Latin America flocking to learn the Chinese language, increasingly heard in boardrooms and on executive junkets.

“It’s fundamental to communicate in their language when you go there or they come here,” said Zamora, 40, a sales executive for the German drugmaker Bayer, which is growing dramatically in China. “If you don’t know their language, you’re lost.”

If we were truly concerned about no child being left behind, we’d prepare them for the global economy. If they aren’t ready, America will be left behind as a whole.


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