Don’t know no English….

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The La Times reports that the Cal State system is kicking out kids that can’t pass remedial Math & English. Check this:

…The most common problem is critical reading skills, and Cal State officials attribute that partly to the large number of students from immigrant households in which English is not the primary language.

….

In at least one way, Hoang fits the profile of students who struggle in English reading proficiency. Although English is her first language, she speaks Vietnamese and Chinese at home with her Asian immigrant parents.

If you can’t pass remedial English-but you say that it is your “first language,” then: either you are a moron who shouldn’t be in college, or English really isn’t your first language and you should go take some courses in junior college.

I have personal experience with this. My family would speak English now and then when I was a little kid in Bangladesh, but I basically came to this country hardly knowing a word when I was 5. I was fluent in 2 years (passable in 6 months) [1]. Learning a language isn’t that hard when you’re a little kid unless you are chronically stupid, in which case you shouldn’t be going to college. Either these were kids thrust through bilingual education, or they went to crappy public schools that didn’t teach jack and socialized only with their own ethnic group and didn’t develop cross-cultural English skills (there are plenty of cases where people talk a certain way with their own folk, but in the wider world use respectable speech patterns). My parents never spoke English at home, but I knew what to yell when I was beating the shit out of the freckled-faced Irish kid that lived down the street. I didn’t have any brown guarding my back, and there wasn’t a posse of Bengali kids I would run around with making my own hybrid English that won’t get you a 200 on the SATs. Thank god(s) for me. You do some sink or swim with kids, and they’ll swim. It’s in our genes.

Well, if you’re 20 years old and in this position of having to learn real English (when I mean real I mean Tom Brokaw type lingua franca, not Singlish, Spanglish or whatever else languages/dialects are spoken within communities)-tough, you have to go to junior college and learn real English that can at least pass the mark of USA TODAY. Assimilation takes time, and if you are expecting kids out of culturally isolated ghettos or barrios to be able to master subjects which require an understanding of the general colloquial you are being naive and setting them up for failure.

[1] Bengali does not have gendered pronouns, so it took me two years to figure out that girls should be addressed with “she” rather than “he”-that was my great stumbling block until the end of 1st grade.

Diane adds: A personal contribution, an observation, and a question. My parents both spoke another language (Yiddish) at home, until they were six*, when they went to school and were simply expected to learn English. Fast. They were totally surrounded by other Yiddish-speakers. Yet they learned English in school. Fast. Discuss. (My own speculation is that (a) the children of the immigrants–not all Jewish, this was the case with the children of all the other immigrants as well–were simply expected to learn the language of the dominant society, no excuses. I also speculate that although they were living in poverty-stricken ethnic ghettoes, they were actually less ghettoized than today’s Spanish-speaking migrants.)

Observation. As readers of my blog may know, I spent a couple of years in Israel. My Hebrew never got terribly good, because I was always able to sell myself on my English-language skills. This was during the time of the airlift of the Ethiopians to Israel. At one point I took a Hebrew-language course in a desert town. Next to the school was an absorption-center which was full of Ethiopians. A large group of Ethiopians started out around the same time as we did. Quite a contrast: my group were all Western university graduates, many with advanced degrees. They were penniless refugees from a war zone.

One peculiarity of this absorption center was that it wasn’t isolated (many of them are, arising from a totally mistaken notion that immigrants ought to be “eased” into a new society), it was in the middle of an apartment block inhabited by Israelis, so the Ethiopian kids played with natives. After four months, the children were chattering away merrily in near-native Hebrew. While we Western-educated smartasses were still struggling with a still impenetrable, utterly foreign language.

The key to both stories is isolation and its converse, social mixing.

Question: does anyone think that this story has any relevance to language acquistion?

___________________________________
*In those days there was no kindergarten.

42 Comments

  1. LOL, Razib – I grew up in India where my parents spoke to us at home in Telugu, but at the missionary school I attended, English-speaking was mandatory – that was how I learned it. Same with Hindi – most of the Hindi I picked up was thanks to all the Hindi movies I saw and all those North-Indian classmates I had in Engineering College. One has got to be too stupid to not being able to learn a language that is all around them.

  2. Well, youth and a will to learn have a lot to do with learning language – children have a huge natural advantage. I learned English as my second language (both parents spoke German at home, I started to learn English around the age of 4, when we got a TV and I started attending some sort of preschool). I know a couple of people who arrived in the US at the age of 10 with no English and both were fluent after two years (one Korean, one Colombian). On the other hand I also knew a guy from Colombia who had immigrated in 1968 [he worked as a machinist for my dad], and after 25 years in country he still spoke broken English; his job didn’t require more, and he had no will to improve.

    >One has got to be too stupid to not being able to learn a language that is all around them

    Beware the unintentional irony ;-)

  3. Forgot to fill in info – previous post is mine.

  4. Comparing your progress with that of kids, Diana, isn’t exactly fair. Kids can generally learn languages with ease until about the time puberty hits. After that, it’s much more difficult, which is at least part of the reason why you had more trouble learning Hebrew.

  5. Geoff, Fer sure, but that wasn’t really my point. I offered that example to prove that kids learn like little sponges when they are goddamned expected to!!

    No ethnic group has an excuse not to teach their kids English when they come to this country. Dammit!

    The entire bilingual education establishment is a bunch of racketeer-hustlers-fakes-phonies-frauds, and they should all be cast in the first circle of hell. They are wholly destructive.

    I am to them as David is to fat slobs!!

    I can see two sides of ‘most every issue. Not this. Because there aren’t two sides to this issue. They are 100% wrong.

  6. I don’t disagree with you, Diana… I too think that all kids in the US should learn English, and I also think that kids should begin learning a second language at an earlier age.

  7. This is a political football and there are a lot of interest groups involved (especially bilingual vs. non-bilingual teachers). As such it is messy, and things are not what they seem. When I worked briefly in bilingual classes (I was the ESL guy) it seemed that feeling about the issue was pretty pork-barrel and slightly racist — why do these Vietnamese have jobs instead of my buddy? (The Vietnamese teachers, incidentally, were better-educated than most of the American teachers).

    I never quite understand the intensity of the anger expressed on the issue.

    As far as I know, very few immigrant groups refuse to learn English. The first generation might refuse or fail to, but usually the third generation is monolingual in English.

    In pure results-oriented terms, if bilingual education could produce high school graduates fluent and literate in two languages, that would be an educational plus. Fluency in a language is the equivalent of a full year of intensive college. There are here in Portland a French/English private school and, I think, a German/English private school planned that way.
    This educational value seems to be lost in the debate. And I know many people who are fluent but illiterate and basically stupid (can’t say anything very interesting) in their parents’ language — seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

    All this was hacked out in my home state of Minnesota with German and Norwegian several generations ago. Various messy compromises were reached. Bilingualism wasn’t very successful, but it didn’t do any harm either. During WWI German bilingualism became a big issue, of course.

    There is a tendency to sugarcoat the early American immigrant experience, which was pretty harsh, and to greatly minimize the number of old immigrants who never learned English. If we’re doing things differently now, maybe we’re doing things better.

    Some people arguing on the issue seem to be confused as to whether bilingualism is an expensive privilege given to certain people, or a cruel educational abomination which never be practiced anywhere. It really can’t be both, but some debaters seem to forget that,

  8. well, you point out some issues that are true zizka. also, the germans hand their own school system in parts of the NE for a while. but the main thing is from what i’ve heard bilingual classes are mostly taught in the non-english language from what i know. the long term cost to society might be minimal-but the short term cost to individuals that hit puberty with an accent are not. i have a personal issue because i know how valuable it is to learn english as a small child-it’s already hard enough to be set off as alien by your physical appearence.

  9. The sound and fury on bilingual education in the USA is pretty funny from a Canadian perspective. Francophone communities outside Quebec are guaranteed the right to education in their own language where numbers warrant.

    But, as Quebeckers like to point out that, even with unilingual french education, francophone communities outside Quebec and New Brunswick are slowly disapearing. The assimilatory power of English is too strong. It is seemingly impossible to stop the population from becoming entirely anglophone.

    So why all the fuss about bi-lingual (not even uniligual) education? It’s not going to prevent the evaporation of Spanish from the USA. What’s the big deal? Allow it or prevent it — do whatever is better for tests scores. There’s no “culture war” issue here.

  10. There’s a funny story here. More recently I worked in a medical school bookstore. A few medical students, especially girls, spoke English poorly with a thick Vietnamese accent. Not because of bilingualism, but because they spent all their time at home studying and didn’t hang out with their classmates at all. They sociakized only with family and family friends. They were literate in English, and talented in science, but not fluent speakers.

  11. a few east asians have asked me if they think south asians are “genetically” better at learning languages. i thought it was pretty bizarre ?-but these were often medical & science graduate students who moved to the united states before they hit puberty but had a mild accent. certainly, one reason india is beating china at the IT services game is because indians are better with world languages, while chinese are not (and neither are japanese).

    and ikram, as i’ve stated, the long term tendency to english is there. society & the world will eventually aquire english as a matter of historical inevitability. but-i don’t think there is any reason any american children should be excluded from FULL mastery of the dominant and economically most lucrative tongue. certainly one part of the problem is that many immigrant parents have an inclination that their children learn to speak english-but they aren’t the types to speak up & attend PTA meetings so the politics of activists and economic interests of teachers are the prime consideration.

    PS-my sister was put in a class for “foreign” students up in seattle-half the kids were russian, half chicano, and both groups spoke in their language constantly. my sister and a chinese girl were the ones left out. she complained that her & the girl spoke english with other, but that the class was boring & slow because they spent so much time “teaching english” to the kids. my parents switched her out of the class soon enough-though the teacher seemed a bit concerned that as a child of immigrants she would be disadvantaged in a class of native english speakers and wouldn’t have the advantage of easing in her linguistic skills in her class (laugh).

  12. As an ESL teacher, I’ve found that East asians are good book students but poor at learning to speak, because they’re shy and also embarassed about making mistakes. Arabs are the opposite — very outgoing and hard to embarass, and good at learning to speak. But poor book students (with exceptions; there are a number of Egyptian PhD’s here in Portland). I also have a feeling that Russians and Slavs are quick learners. But I’ve taught almost no South Asian students.

    The biggest success in the ESL classes I taught was when 3 girls with three different native languages started sitting together in the back and talking to one another in English. While I have demurred from the general tone of this thread, I agree now that segregating English-learners and making them into and unfunded obligation hasn’t been a totally good thing. Here in Portland, as I understand (I’ve been out of it for decades) ESL-Bilingual has always been conceived as transitional.

  13. Bilingual education costs money. Money is a resource. Resources are ALWAYS in short supply. Why piss away a scarce resource?

    BTW, my brother-in-law is a native of Iran, though he is a Turk, and not Persian. He spoke almost no English when he arrived here about a decade ago. He did, however, speak Farsi as well as fluent Italian as he lived in Italy for a few years. Italy is where my sister met him. He is almost fluent in English now. He also worked very hard to earn a B.S. in microbiology from a well respected state school on the East Coast. And this as a middle-aged man!

  14. zizka- in a place like portland (Imbler i assume, but Maine would apply too) transition is the only real options (to a great extent). but in SoCal you can get away with not knowing much english and still get plenty of good jobs. a kid from SoCal-chicano background, complained how all his chicano friends have messed up english grammar from speaking spanglish all the time. he was telling me this because since he read a lot of books he did pretty well on the verbal SAT, but most if his friends that didn’t read a lot and spoke spanglish even in class had a hard time with it and had to keep taking it over & over to get the score they wanted….

  15. Bilingualism wasn’t very successful, but it didn’t do any harm either. During WWI German bilingualism became a big issue, of course.

    This situation isn’t comparable to Spanish-speaking migrants who are coming here in huge numbers and who retain an alleigance to their home country.

    There is a tendency to sugarcoat the early American immigrant experience, which was pretty harsh,

    I’m not sugar-coating anything. My parents were immigrants and I know how tough it was.

    and to greatly minimize the number of old immigrants who never learned English.

    My grandparents never learned English. So what? That’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about the US harboring a bi-lingual nightmare. Every voicemail I hear has the option of Spanish. Every bank in NY has English-Spanish instructions. Why should any kid learn English if he can get along in Spanish?

    If we’re doing things differently now, maybe we’re doing things better.

    You’re an ESL teacher and have a vested interest in believing that. The rest of us don’t have to.

  16. Roger: If bilingual education is a good thing, then spending money on it is a good thing. If not, not. Same as music, for example. I think that music study, for character-building, etc., is ten times better than sports, but it’s the first thing cut at budget time. “Why piss away money on music?”

    The people in Miami or LA who never learn proper English are reasonably comparable to my native-speaker small-town childhood friends in Minnesota who never learned proper English either. (If you saw the movie Fargo, that’s how we really talk there). It definitely costs them — they drive trucks and so on, but someone has to drive the trucks.

    Some of the anti-immigrant anti-bilingual venom comes from the fact that Hispanics are the most recent immigrants brought in to do the dirty work, and that they came at a time when unskilled laborers are regarded with utter contempt.

  17. Anon — I haven’t been an ESL teacher since 1984, and I worked overseas then. I worked for 9 months in ESL here in 1980 and didn’t like it for various reasons.

    As far as I know, for Hispanics its still true, as with other immigrant groups, that the second generation is usually bilingual and the third generation is most ofen monolingual in English. If I’ve got the facts wrong then we have something to talk about. As far as I know, there’s not real problem.

    “Why should any kid learn English when he can get along in Spanish?” I’ll tell you why — so he can score with HOT BLOND BABES! NATURAL BLONDES!

    There are tons of other reasons too.

    A lot of people just plain hate to walk down the street and hearing a foreign language spoken. The politest word for these people is “nativists”. That’s a big, nasty factor in this whole debate.

  18. Zizka, Most of what you say is not thinking, it is spouting for the sake of spouting.

    To quote your favorite blogger, “Oh puhleeze.”

    This, however, makes sense:

    I think that music study, for character-building, etc., is ten times better than sports, but it’s the first thing cut at budget time. “Why piss away money on music?”

    But it’s not what YOU think, numerous studies have proven that early music study is beneficial to the brain.

    Numerous real-life studies have proven that bilingual education is bad for kids. Other numerous real-life studies have proven that countries with separatist movements (Yugoslavia) fall apart.

    I’ve finished with this.

  19. Diane said
    Numerous real-life studies have proven that bilingual education is bad for kids. Other numerous real-life studies have proven that countries with separatist movements (Yugoslavia) fall apart.

    Well, this first part I understand. Technical issue. Controlled experiments in lab settings. Surveys and statistical techniques. Dull conferences at second rate hotels in Cleveland.

    But the second — Bilingual education will lead to separatism!! Que? A debate that ought to be on par with — “should pre-cal topics be introduced in 10 or 9th grade” is transformed with a rhetorial flourish into a Question on the Future of the Union (capital letters, deep voice).

    I think this is a big problem with US policy debates. Everyone goes bonkers. Ok — that’s too harsh. How about — ordinary policy issues are raised to become life or death battles of values. (Suman Palit had a gun control related entry on this point). Instead of an normal conversation on the results of multi-language education, perhaps at a coffee house or pub, it becomes this existential (is that right?) battle about core values and identity!!

    Razib said SoCal you can get away with not knowing much english and still get plenty of good jobs. So that suggests that learning English is not that big a deal. Its not necessary to achieving important things in life (home, job, health). So don’t bother putting a big emphasis on it. If Razib is wrong, and it is necessary to live well, then make sure people learn it. Doesn’t really matter either way.

    Consider how bizarre it is that whole language reading vs. phonics became a crusade in the culture war. A good vs. evil battle. It seems bonkers for Diane to get so upset over bilingual education. Would she go so upset over the teaching of short stories vs. novels in 7th grade?

    Am I missing something? Are you not all loony — is there a Giant Battle for Core Values (capital letters, deep voice) that I’m missing. Why is this a big deal?

  20. Diane, I realize that you’re tired of this, but that’s hardly an argument. You didn’t have to come here. My main point at the beginning was that I did not understand the intensity of feeling of many, notably you, about this issue. I still don’t; I clearly perceive the intensity of your feeling, but I still don’t understand it.

    I am fairly undecided about bilingual education in general. Since it has become a political football (with major pork barrel aspects) it’s pretty much out of my hands. If I were to move to Europe and start a family, I would hope for bilingual French/English or German/English education for my kids.

    It reminds me of that other political football: phonics vs. whole-word (look-say) teaching. That’s been around for 50 years or more (I was at the transition in 1952) and people have very definite opinions about it. Once the state legislature gets involved, these kind sof disputes are hopeless.

    Yugoslavia fell apart, Switzerland still hasn’t Belgium hasn’t, Canada hasn’t, Ireland hasn’t, Singapore hasn’t. The latter countries have language problems which are extremely annoying but really not all that terrible. Canada, as I perceive, has a major problem shortage. They’ve gotta bitch about something, so it might as well be the Quebequois.

    “Spouting for the sake of spouting”? Well, I have been trying to explore the issue. I have not tried to drive the discussion to the kind of steel-trap moment of truth which seems to dominate your argumentation.

    Sorry, lady, my favorite blogger is me.

  21. Zizka, I’m glad someone likes you.

  22. i said they could get good jobs on SoCal. also, i get asked to translate at airports and public places by latinos hoping i know spanish enough that it isn’t all that convenient once you leave an area where they are a big minority. i feel sorry for ‘em actually. granted, these tend to be older immigrants.

  23. I believe language acquisition isn’t always simply a choice between wanting to learn and working at it. I pick up languages very easily, used to be bi-ligual (sp?) in one. When I was little we lived overseas and I went to a non-english speaking preschool for 1/2 the day and I’ve heard that early exposure to another language helps facilitate language acqusition all through life. My husband cannot learn languages if you put a gun to his head. He has taken them in school and also when he was young (about 10 yrs. old, I think). It is not a question of him not trying. I have seen many of my friends’ children work with varying degrees of difficulty trying to become bi-ligual. Some kids, no problem. Others work very hard and suffer at it. Many are in the same family (languages are Spanish, German, Korean and French). I don’t think it’s quite so simple as language education, but also part of the person’s wiring (although I think bi-lingual education is terrible, that said I am favorably disposed to ‘properly run’ Immersion programs). I don’t see the problem with offering spanish translations when they would help many people out. Maybe because I’ve lived in many countries where no English was spoken and it can be tough. It just doesn’t bother me. I just moved to Texas and next fall plan to take spanish at the local community college. I think it just helps this state.

  24. Just to confuse the issue further. One of my son’s friends is Hong King Chinese. He and his siblings are almost completely Americanized upward-mobile college graduates (he thinks that my own interest in Chinese language and culture is a waste of time). Neither parent knows any English to speak of. When they used to call over to my house asking for their son, they couldn’t put together a simple English question. The mom was a mom and worked and the dad worked 60-80 lowpaid hours. They just didn’t have time to learn English. But they could read their kids’ report cards and insisted on A’s.

    So anyway, if you saw the parents on the street, speaking broken English after 15 years, you might think that they were part of “the problem”. But they weren’t.

  25. Razib:
    “i said they could get good jobs on SoCal.”

    Having lived in SoCal now for 3 years, I don’t think this is true. You can possibly get -a job- in SoCal if you only know Spanish, and not English. But, almost any job paying more than 40K (and I’m probably being extremely generous here) in SoCal still demands fluency in English. I’ve dealt with a plethora of Spanish only speaking immigrants, and the jobs they tend to have are usually menial labor types. As Razib pointed out, however, if you move out of SoCal (and maybe Miami) it is much more difficult to get even these types of jobs speaking only Spanish.

    I didn’t even get into the many more problems Spanish only speaking peoples have with regard to health care access, interacting with the legal system, getting loans… I’m sure you get the picture, but I could go on and so could most children of parents who never spoke the majority language of their adopted country.

    Zizka:
    “Just to confuse the issue further. One of my son’s friends is Hong King Chinese. He and his siblings are almost completely Americanized upward-mobile college graduates (he thinks that my own interest in Chinese language and culture is a waste of time). Neither parent knows any English to speak of. When they used to call over to my house asking for their son, they couldn’t put together a simple English question. The mom was a mom and worked and the dad worked 60-80 lowpaid hours. They just didn’t have time to learn English. But they could read their kids’ report cards and insisted on A’s.

    So anyway, if you saw the parents on the street, speaking broken English after 15 years, you might think that they were part of “the problem”. But they weren’t.”

    No, actually I would think they are the exception to the rule that not knowing the majority language of your adopted country will harm your kids’s futures. The exception proves the rule is true- that is why it is the exception.

    BTW, Latino immigrants (whatever their ‘g’) are some of the hardest working peoples out there. IMO, there are simply many who are hurting themselves by not knowing English.

  26. R: “The exception proves the rule” is never true the way people think; it’s a fossil of the time when “prove” meant “test” (as in proving grounds, or the proof of the pudding). The exception tests the rule.

    Where I grew up a lot of the oldest generation never did learn English well. People who immigrated in 1900–1920 who I knew around 1955-60.

    One of the reasons immigrants from Mexico and central America are less likely to learn English is that they have crummy jobs and no support when they get here. Low pay, long commutes, no security, migrant work, etc. The reason they have crummy jobs is because that’s what they came here for. Their purpose has been to fill the bottom slots of the American workforce. It’s hard to escape from that.

    If you look at Korean, Pakistani, Indian, or Chinese immigrants of the present time, it’s a completely different population brought in for completely different reasons. Much more selective immigration by mostly educated, middle-class people with some kind of support.

    A lot of the hatred of Mexican immigrants is just the usual contempt for unskilled workers and poor people. No one has convinced me that they’re refusing to learn English.

  27. well-

    i don’t think there is something in mexican immigrants that makes them not want to learn english. there are deep seated structural variables that mitigate against it-their high density in many locales & elite fostering of alternative identities being the prime ones. poor people’s kids get crap educations no matter what, the only problem here is that the poor people in ? don’t speak english at home. the best way to allow them to learn english would be force them to mix with other kids….

    remember how they defeated the anti-bilingual measure in colorado? they convinced the “anglos” that latino kids would be disruptive….

  28. Zizka:
    “R: “The exception proves the rule” is never true the way people think; it’s a fossil of the time when “prove” meant “test” (as in proving grounds, or the proof of the pudding). The exception tests the rule.”

    This is an obtuse rejoinder based on semantics. Use whatever term you want- ‘test’, ‘prove’, ‘challenge’…etc. If there are nothing but a relatively small number of exceptions ‘challenging’ a rule, all that is ‘proven’ is that the rule stands firm.

    ‘Where I grew up a lot of the oldest generation never did learn English well. People who immigrated in 1900–1920 who I knew around 1955-60.’

    My guess is that they could have gone farther had they learned English- like other ‘older’ immigrants who did.

    ‘One of the reasons immigrants from Mexico and central America are less likely to learn English is that they have crummy jobs and no support when they get here. Low pay, long commutes, no security, migrant work, etc. The reason they have crummy jobs is because that’s what they came here for. Their purpose has been to fill the bottom slots of the American workforce. It’s hard to escape from that.

    If you look at Korean, Pakistani, Indian, or Chinese immigrants of the present time, it’s a completely different population brought in for completely different reasons. Much more selective immigration by mostly educated, middle-class people with some kind of support.’

    Well, it may make it more difficult for the new, poorer Mexican immigrants to learn English based on all the reasons you cited. That is all the more reason to have schools teach English as the primary language to their kids.

    The circumstances may be more difficult for these immigrants but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility- to themselves- to learn English. There are a lot of hard luck immigrant stories in this land. Their are probably a lot of similar and a lot worse examples of immigrants trying to make it. The ones who came to this country and usually achieved the most understood the value of speaking the same language as the majority.

    BTW, in India and much of Asia, there are a LOT of much poorer peoples who despite their ridiculously meager lots, know 2,3,4+ languages. They never let their socioeconomic situation be a crutch to trying to do what they could to improving their/ their kids’s lives.

    ‘A lot of the hatred of Mexican immigrants is just the usual contempt for unskilled workers and poor people. No one has convinced me that they’re refusing to learn English.’

    I don’t think anyone here hates Mexicans- they are simply trying to offer suggestions to assist the assimilation process, as are you.

    Secondly, learning languages is HARD as hell- especially the farther one is from early childhood. There are complicated neuronal developmental theories that are believed to be the reason for this. But, basically, it is a hard endeavor. Govt should be doing everything in its power to make sure immigrants and, above all, the immigrants’s kids learn English as soon as possible.

    I think some Mexican immigrants are ‘refusing’ to learn English because it is too hard at their age. Many might have less incentive to learn it because our govt goes out of its way to accomodate Spanish speakers (bilingual ed, Spanish translations of signs/ govt texts, Spanish translators provided at many govt institutions- esp. hospitals, courts- to name a few…).

    We have to keep a lot of this for the Spanish only speakers who are likely way too old to be expected to understand another language, unfortunately. However, getting rid of things like bilingual education would expedite immigrant kids’s assimilation and participation in American culture.

  29. Yes, there are a lot of people in the United States who just naturally learn two languages, too. Most of them are Spanish speakers. Multilingual people in India, etc., who live in muyltilingual places become multilingual. In the U.S, that mostly happens in areas where there are many Spanish-speakers. One of the reasons I’m arguing these points here is that I’m not sure that there’s a problem. It’s just than any immigrant group is going to be disliked. I’m not saying that immigrants shouldn’t learn English; I’m saying that they mostly are learning English. And I’m also saying that the ones who aren’t learning English are probably not learning mostly because they’re stuck in deadend jobs; they’re not mostly stuck in deadend jobs because they’re not learning English.

    Sorry, what I said about “The exception proves the rule” was to the point. You recited a meaningless cliche, not understanding what it really met.

    The people I knew who didn’t learn English were small farmers. Someone has to run the farms. There’s little or no upward mobility in agriculture, not then anyway.

    I mostly agree with Ikram above. I personally believe that immigrants should learn English if they can. I am open to the possibility that immersion is better than bilingual ed. I joined this discussion because I do not understand the intensity of the opposition to bilingual ed. I think that there’s a lot more going on here than a discussion of educational methods. Resentment of immigrants and especially resentment of the unskilled-labor immigrants is part of it.

    Incidentally, I don’t think that much of the multilingualism in Asia comes from people “trying to improve their childrens’ lives.” It’s mostly just a geographic fact, as in the bilingual parts of the US. The exception would be middle class families (by Asian standards) who make enormous efforts to educate their children in English so they can immigrate. The contrast with Mexican and Central American immigrants stands. Completely different patterns of immmigration by completely different people.

  30. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-arrests1feb01,0,7902624.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld

    Zizka:
    “Yes, there are a lot of people in the United States who just naturally learn two languages, too. Most of them are Spanish speakers. Multilingual people in India, etc., who live in muyltilingual places become multilingual. In the U.S, that mostly happens in areas where there are many Spanish-speakers. One of the reasons I’m arguing these points here is that I’m not sure that there’s a problem. It’s just than any immigrant group is going to be disliked. I’m not saying that immigrants shouldn’t learn English; I’m saying that they mostly are learning English. And I’m also saying that the ones who aren’t learning English are probably not learning mostly because they’re stuck in deadend jobs; they’re not mostly stuck in deadend jobs because they’re not learning English.”

    If an immigrant never learns English what are the chances he will remain at his dead end job? Close to 100% likely.

    If an immigrant learns English what are the chances he will remain at his dead end job? Still high but significantly lower than 100%.

    To assume that immigrants are prevented from getting better jobs b/c their present jobs preclude their learning English, suggests that immigrants should just give up hoping for a anything better. What’s the point? This is the best you can do so remain uneducated.

    “Sorry, what I said about “The exception proves the rule” was to the point. You recited a meaningless cliche, not understanding what it really met.”

    You are assuming a lot about not just immigrants but me too, I see. A more apropos way to state my stance would be that I understand fully well the common, meaningful statement cited, but I still have no idea what exactly you are trying to say.

    “I mostly agree with Ikram above. I personally believe that immigrants should learn English if they can. I am open to the possibility that immersion is better than bilingual ed. I joined this discussion because I do not understand the intensity of the opposition to bilingual ed. I think that there’s a lot more going on here than a discussion of educational methods. Resentment of immigrants and especially resentment of the unskilled-labor immigrants is part of it.”

    I have offered counters to some of M and Roger Chaillet’s posts on some aspects of Hispanic immigration in other threads. I am basically more optimistic than they on the long term implications of Hispanic immigration in America.

    However, what I won’t apologize for is the idea that we owe immigrants, esp illegal immigrants, NOTHING. If they can come to this country and help the native population that is already here, then it may be in the interest of those already here to want them to come and stay. Ultimately, I feel that due to factors like the decline in fertility levels of the natives, it may be that the children of Latino immigrants (even illegal immigrants) will prove ever more useful to America’s future. I suspect you will still find many aspects of what I just said harboring ‘resentment’ of some kind. So be it.

    But, a country needs to decide how best to run its immigration policy and should do so to best serve its natives. This is what happens when large swaths of a country’s immigrant population have problems with assimilation (free registration):
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-arrests1feb01,0,7902624.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld

    “Incidentally, I don’t think that much of the multilingualism in Asia comes from people “trying to improve their childrens’ lives.” It’s mostly just a geographic fact, as in the bilingual parts of the US. The exception would be middle class families (by Asian standards) who make enormous efforts to educate their children in English so they can immigrate. The contrast with Mexican and Central American immigrants stands. Completely different patterns of immmigration by completely different people. “

    Part of the reason is geography, but not all. I’m Indian and have been to India. I think that a lot of Indians (and probably other Asiatic groups) at low/ low middle class socioeconomic levels still speak English when their socioeconomic counterparts in Latin America don’t. I think the biggest reason for this is the realization among the Asians and their respective govts that English is the new language of the globe. English is pushed in the home and the school.

  31. Change: …I won’t apologize for is the idea that we owe immigrants… tO

    …I won’t apologize for is the idea that we owe would be immigrants…

    Obviously, legal immigrants who get here should be treated differently than someone who just wishes he/she were here from another nation.

  32. Exceptions never prove rules. They test rules. Until it is intelligibly shown that an exception is, for some explainable reason, an exception, the exception disproves the rule. When you do succeed in explaining that the exception is indeed an exception and the rule is still valid, then what proved the rule was NOT the exception, but your further investigation and explanation.

    I often see that phrase, and by native speakers too, used to justify sloppy thinking and ignore troublesome facts. If you don’t understand what I’ve said it’s your problem. “Prove” in this case has a different meaning than people think.

    I am not saying that immigrants should not learn English. Most of them do. I am pointing out, however, that many of the immigrants who you see who are not learning English are not doing so for some of the following reasons: working long hours, migrant jobs with no stability, family obligations, extreme financial insecurity, being trapped in a monolingual Spanish environment, etc. Not every impoverished immigrant in this circumstance fails to learn English, and the exceptions whould be appreciated, but (just as with earlier generations of immigrants whose children and children have by now assimilated) there are pretty good, concrete reasons why a lot of the first generation don’t.

    Some of what I say is not directed specifically at what you have said but at my understanding of how these questions play out in US opinion generally. I do not accuse personally you of hating Mexicans, but that’s a subtext in the national argument.

    Lowpaid workers **do** contribute to the nation, whether or not they learn English. For generations food costs have been kept low by employing illegals, green card, braceros, etc., in lowpaid jobs which give the jobholders very little chance in life. This labor practice used to be west-coast but in recent decades it has penetrated the Midwest, e.g. in meatpacking in S.D. and Minn. When native-born mostly-Caucasian workers were replaced with legals and illegals, wages and benefits went down and working conditions became much worse, and the local communities were weakened and various social problems emerged. My point is that the Mexicans (et al) did not do this. It was the employers who did this.

    It’s good for employers to have a large stock of impoverished, desperate potential workers competing for jobs. That’s why we have so many uneducated illegals and legals who speak broken or no English. If all of them learned English and got better jobs, employers would simply have to find another pool of desperate and impoverished applicants in order to keep wages down.

    There are, of course, left-wing and liberal arguments in favor of “family-wage jobs” I could insert here, but I doubt that anyone on this thread would be interested.

    Summary: most of the anti-immigrant and anti-bilingual energy comes from resentment of Hispanics who don’t learn English. It isn’t clear to me that there is a real long-term problem — this kind of thing has been ebbing and flowing in the US since about 1840. Hispanic immigrants are a different category than most Asian immigrants, who are almost always sponsored, from middle-class families (by the Asian standard), and skille dor on their way to being so. Hispanic immigrants are brought in specifically to fill the lowest poositions in the employment market, and partly to keep these positions low. Individual Hispanics should of course learn English and improve themselves. The idea that they’re “refusing” to do so is mostly false. But if all of them learn English and improve themselves, we’ll just have to ship in another batch of lowpaid workers to complain about.

  33. That was me, obviously.

  34. Zizka:
    “Exceptions never prove rules. They test rules. Until it is intelligibly shown that an exception is, for some explainable reason, an exception, the exception disproves the rule. When you do succeed in explaining that the exception is indeed an exception and the rule is still valid, then what proved the rule was NOT the exception, but your further investigation and explanation.”

    The statement in question was (from earlier post):
    ‘…not knowing the majority language of your adopted country will harm your kids’s futures.’

    So if you feel that this ‘rule’ is invalid I would suggest offering more than one counter example (i.e. the Oriental immigrant family you knew) to make your argument have any statistical merit.

    Again, I am arguing mathematics and statistics, you are using semantic arguments based on anectdotal reasoning. I prefer math to show me whether the isolated cases are significant from a statistical standpoint.

    “I often see that phrase, and by native speakers too, used to justify sloppy thinking and ignore troublesome facts. If you don’t understand what I’ve said it’s your problem.”

    Who said I have a problem? Again, you need more than one example that counters an argument to make it be statistically significant.

    Please think about this idea some more before you respond with more pious, sanctimonious rhetoric.

    “Lowpaid workers **do** contribute to the nation, whether or not they learn English. For generations food costs have been kept low by employing illegals, green card, braceros, etc., in lowpaid jobs which give the jobholders very little chance in life. This labor practice used to be west-coast but in recent decades it has penetrated the Midwest, e.g. in meatpacking in S.D. and Minn. When native-born mostly-Caucasian workers were replaced with legals and illegals, wages and benefits went down and working conditions became much worse, and the local communities were weakened and various social problems emerged. My point is that the Mexicans (et al) did not do this. It was the employers who did this.”

    To me, this is train of thought is getting completely off the topic. I am less interested in ‘blamiing’ the Mexican immigrant than finding out how to best get them and especially their kids to assimilate.

    “Summary: most of the anti-immigrant and anti-bilingual energy comes from resentment of Hispanics who don’t learn English. It isn’t clear to me that there is a real long-term problem — this kind of thing has been ebbing and flowing in the US since about 1840. Hispanic immigrants are a different category than most Asian immigrants, who are almost always sponsored, from middle-class families (by the Asian standard), and skille dor on their way to being so. Hispanic immigrants are brought in specifically to fill the lowest poositions in the employment market, and partly to keep these positions low. Individual Hispanics should of course learn English and improve themselves. The idea that they’re “refusing” to do so is mostly false. But if all of them learn English and improve themselves, we’ll just have to ship in another batch of lowpaid workers to complain about. “

    Again, you are getting off the topic. I am less interested in ‘blaming’ the Mexican immigrant than figuring out ways to assimilate them and especially their kids.

    Those who do actually resent these immigrants probably do so b/c America is, in essence, being asked to support poverty and other attendant problems- especially among the 7 million illegal immigrants who broke the laws to come here in the first place. I, personally, feel much less resentment b/c I feel that under the circumstances (low native born fertility rates) we may need the children of Latino immigrants 20-40 yrs in the future to keep our nation productive.

  35. Zizka wrote:
    “”Exceptions never prove rules. They test rules. Until it is intelligibly shown that an exception is, for some explainable reason, an exception, the exception disproves the rule. When you do succeed in explaining that the exception is indeed an exception and the rule is still valid, then what proved the rule was NOT the exception, but your further investigation and explanation.”

    For some reason, this train of thought so irritated me until I understood how you arrived (erroneously in this case) to your conclusion regarding the nature of exceptions. There is a difference between ‘pure’ laws that afford no possibility of exceptions and generalizations which do.

    A ‘pure’ law is something like e=mc^2 and are abundant in fields like physics. So, if there are found to be ‘exceptions’ that violate this ‘pure’ law, then there may need to be a fundamental re- thinking of the entire process. For example, maybe ‘c’ isn’t so constant after all:
    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/generalscience/constant_changing_010815.html

    A generalization is simply a rule for how things usually are, and they are abundant in fields like sociology. It acknowledges the existence of exceptions to it. Unless they are proven statistically relevant (and, therefore, no longer ‘exceptions’), the generalization remains basically true.

    The statement in question was a generalization, of course. Your exception was just that, an exception.

  36. Zizka, I think there is some anti-mexican flavour to the bilingual debate, but I think there is another strand as well, one that beleives bilingual education is an evil plot by an alliance of rich Anglos and the teacher-cabal (yes, don’t laugh) to keep Mexican-Americans subservient and preserve their own teching jobs.

    This, I think, is the source of the depth of emotion brought out by the issue. People don’t think the other side is honest, good, and focussed on the common goal. They think the other side is innately evil and nefarious, hiding their selfish despicable repulsive motives with a coat of morality.

    And, as I said before, this is not just a problem with bilingual education (a really minor techical issue), its a problem with a lot of issues in the USA.

    As for the substance of the issue — I don’t think Razib or Diane want to stamp out Spanish in America, and I don’t thuink you want to make Mexican-Americans into a permanent Helot class. Bilingual education may be an effective teaching technique that is poorly implemented, or it may inherently flawed. But, now that is has been so politicized, I doubt it will ever be evaluated on its merits. The whole debate’s gone to shit.

  37. -R: I may have harped a bit too much on “the exception…” etc. I know the difference between a law and a generalization; I also know that the generalizations of sociology and psychology are scientifically pretty weak. The way to express that is to say, “That’s an exception; usually it doesn’t happen that way.” This still leaves the question open: “How often does a near-monolingual immigrant parent have kids who are fluent in English”. I think that the exceptions are fewer than you think, historically and right now.

    Ikram: I definitely do not want to make Mexican-Americans a permanent helot class. My argument has been that a.) Mexican Americans probably are learning English more or less as fast as earlier immigant groups b.) one major reason that they’re not learning faster than they are is that, as in earlier waves of immigration, Mexican-Americans are in a poor position to do so for a variety of financial and job-type reasons.

    I agree with you that the question of “which method works better” has been swamped, as a political football, in a lot of other issues.

    There are things I haven’t said so far, since it is my perception that this is a conservative site. The anti-labor bias of US politics since 1980 means that a). plenty of people are happy to see immigrants keeping wages down b). plenty of people despise those of the immigrants who are poor and unskilled, simply because they’re unskilled labor — even more than the racial reasons. And few admit that these poor, unskilled workers are in fact doing useful work and thus doing a service for others.

    And I guess I would also say c.) that the poor future prospects of Mexican immigrants (I should say — unskilled, mostly-Hispanic immigrants) is partly a result of the anti-labor policies which deliberately keep wages as low as the market will bear, while also reducing government services which low-paid laborers have traditionally used to supplement their wages and improve their childrens’ futures.

    After all my blather (thank you Diane) it may surprise everyone to know that I think that immersion in some form may be preferable to bilingual education as a way of teaching English to immigrants. And I don’t really have warm feelings toward the education establishment (I don’t work in education any more). But in my discussions of this issue, I have always found that the anti-bilingualists have had one or more hidden agendas and axes to grind. That’s why I showed up. (That, and to procrastinate on some things that have a March 30 deadline. Yes, I do have better things to do with my time).

  38. I’m writing a book about a charter high school that targets D and F students, and tries to prepare them for college. About 85 percent are Hispanic, mostly from Mexican immigrant families. Almost all went through bilingual education. Typically, their parents speak little or no English.

    The kids all speak conversational English, often as their preferred language, but they don’t have the vocabularies to understand what they read. And most have limited vocabularies in Spanish, because they’ve picked it up from their poorly educated parents. They’re semi-literate in two languages.

    Children raised by educated parents enter school with good language skills. They can learn a new language quickly and easily. Every kid I’ve talked to said it took till Christmas to speak playground English; by the end of kindergarten, they were fluent.

    Children raised by uneducated parents — that is, by the typical Mexican immigrant family — enter school with poor Spanish skills and often with poor English skills too. In the bilingual model used here, they’re taught 90 percent of the time in Spanish, 10 percent in English for the first two years. Then they slowly get more English.

    Often they’re taught by the aide, because the teacher isn’t really bilingual. The curriculum is dumbed down, because they’re considered less able learners. They’re not supposed to be taught to read in English till they’ve learned to read in Spanish. That could mean they don’t start reading in English till third, fourth or fifth grade. usually, the teacher will switch them to English by third grade, whether they can read in Spanish or not. Basically, they get stuck betwixt and between, with poor mastery of both languages.

    Parents, by the way, want their children to learn English and often protest when their kids are placed in bilingual classes with very little English. But uneducated Mexican parents tend to be very deferential to authority. The experts tell them bilingual ed works, and the parents go along.

    Bilingual ed for middle-class children is very different. Usually, these are boutique programs taught by competent teachers, not aides, with high-level curriculum. Students often do quite well, though disadvantaged children may suffer from inadequate practice in English at home.

    At “my” charter school, all instruction is in English. It’s tough for the new immigrants at first, but the teachers tell them that they’ll need English for college and for good jobs, and they know that’s true. I was thrilled to learn that Roberto, who spoke almost no English when he started ninth grade, made the honor roll by the end of 10th grade.

  39. ikram is correct, this is a canary-in-the-coal-mine issue. bilingual, and the arguments that i heard from proponents even after the success of Unz’s initiatve and then success of English immersion-are what shifted me to the political Right (in 2000 i voted libertarian and on the ballot measures, republican vs. democrat had little relevance to me, as i tended to agree with nader on on the republicrat/demican thesis).

    zizka might point out that earlier waves also suffered from generational transitions in english aquisition, but there is a difference. in earlier times the assumption by the elites was this was an english-speaking anglo-saxon country, initially by race, later by culture (after the large waves of german and irish immigrants between 1840-1860). today many of the elites have rejected that thesis. this applies to both Left and Right, though i believe the Left is more aggressive about it and more philosopically coherent in their rejection of the old cultural awareness of this country.

    in the long run, multiculturalism is my beef, because i think it is a threat toward liberalism. if, as in canada, (from whence i believe ikram hails), the dominant ethnic groups have a reasonably liberal tradition, than one can agree on liberalism even if they speak different languages (english, french and now a variety of other ones amongst the allaphones i believe they’re called). on the other hand, the problem for me because when groups without long-lasting liberal cultural traditions are told that their culture is JUST AS GOOD as the native one. latino immigrants are a mild problem in this regard, mexico is not a totalitarian dictatorships, but it certainly does not have a liberal political culture. it has a liberal ideal, but its mode of operation is far more based on a modern version of feudalism and paternalism. a greater threat, though far smaller in numbers, are the muslim immigrants. they have a coherent ideology that matters, that they care about. numerically it does not seem they will be able to impose norms on the majority in the united states, but i am a strong believer that there is a reason that patriarchal cultures that treated as women as property have been dominant throughout literate history-they are successful and appeal to basic instincts in Man. certainly, the Honor Killing culture applies to christians as well as muslims in the middle east. i am rather fearful of the memes that muslims might inject into the general culture, because i think islam encapsulates many successful self-propogating ideas. liberalism on the other hand, despite its de jure dominance is a young and immature cultural project. i would prefer that the walls to cultural mixing be rather higher and that liberalism has sole legitimacy within its own spatial area of dominance.

  40. A more restrictive immigration policy which gives preference for immigrants with skills (ala. Canada) will be far more successful and beneficial to the host nation as a whole, rather than a system based on nepotism. The last thing we need are 75-year old Grandmas on Social Security.

    I believe refugees pose the greatest threat and burden on the host nation. They most often bring their problems with them. Why do Western nations refugees them anyway? Is it Christian compassion?

    –> http://www.spur.asn.au/canada.htm

  41. the family reunfication works under the assumption that those who have family will have the easiest time succeeding. this is true, ALL VARIABLES equalized. but, if you brought over 4 doctors that are unrelated, rather than a doctor and his three brothers who graduated from secondary school, it might work out better.

    there is a place for refugees in my opinion. the problem is that asylum is too broad, and there is an assumption that they’ll never go back. for instance, communist era refugees from poland came because of communism, but poland isn’t communist anymore….

    (or ethiopians fleeing the marxist government in the 1980s)

  42. Razib, the Unz initiative was a real test for me, too. I’m skeptical of bilingual education for immigrant children from semi-literate non-English speaking backgrounds. (I support what Joanne Jacobs called boutique bilingual education, and the local public school runs such a program.) My skepticism was confirmed when my children prospered academically in Israeli public schools, where we lived for a temporary fixed-term work assignment.

    The problem with the Unz initiative was that many of its public supporters (I exclude Unz emphatically) were bigots. They didn’t want José to learn English; they wanted him back in Mexico. And I couldn’t bring myself to vote with these people even if, by fluke, they were right for once.

a