My first high school Spanish class captivated me. A student teacher made learning fun as she taught us all she learned while studying abroad in Spain. She inspired me to follow in her footsteps, to find a way to study the language by living in another country and culture.
I later moved to Indiana and had a similar inspiration with one of the greatest teachers ever, who also shared often of her experiences of studying abroad in Guatemala.
Several years later, I found myself flying home after spending a semester studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'd lived with an Argentine host family, faithfully attended a local church youth group, and took part in a Spanish as a Second Language course every morning. As the flight attendants came on the intercom to give information about our flight, first in Spanish and then in English, I realized that my whole world had changed in those three short months. I tuned in to the Spanish announcement over the English and understood every word.
Bilingualism opened up a whole new world to me.
I quickly embraced opportunities to teach English as a Second Language to both children and adults in our small community. I got to use my bilingualism in order to help them gain it, as well. In doing so, I found yet a third world open up to me. I grew up in the "American" world, embraced the "Latin American" world, and now I fell in love with the "Bilingual/Bicultural world", children growing up in a community of one culture and language while being raised at home by parents from another.
Sadly, school systems all over the country saw these children as a hindrance, as kids with lesser skills than their peers due to a limited English proficiency. Those systems in reality failed to see what an incredible advantage these students bring to the table, an opportunity to be the bridge, the link between two worlds. Anyone knows that the ability to speak more than one language makes you far more marketable in the workplace than a peer who can only speak one.
Speaking two or more languages means your brain is working at a greater capacity, carries double the vocabulary, and can make connections that other monolingual brains cannot.
I worked in the ESL system for about five years in Indiana before moving to Texas to work in Bilingual Education for the last fourteen years. ESL focuses solely on gaining English proficiency, while Bilingual Ed. gives children more of a foundation in their native language while still pushing the English as quickly as possible. Now we've finally gotten the right idea here in Texas that a Dual Language Education makes so much more sense. Both languages are equally important. Just imagine the society we could be producing by raising students who speak, read, and write both languages!
I am very grateful for the opportunity I had the last three days to attend the NABE (National Association for Bilingual Education) Conference here in Dallas, along with my Principal, a fellow-coworker, and many other Bilingual teachers from our district. I walked away feeling very inspired to continue in my profession of teaching bilingual learners, raising them to be bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural human beings who can only enhance the society we live in.
Here are just a few key take-aways from the conference:
- The whole concept of America being an English-only nation didn't even come about until the early 1900's.
- If we don't push students through all of the levels of rigor in their own language, they may never be able to transfer the knowledge and skill into the new language.
- Brain research clearly supports the fact that biliterates have enhanced cognitive gains in multi-tasking, classifying information, reasoning skills, visual and spatial skills, recall skills, creativity and focus.
- When you lose your first language, you lose your culture and your family connections.
- Dual language education is an opportunity to stimulate the brain, not remediate a student.
- Your accent is nothing to be ashamed of. It just means you have two world-views or more. To speak with an accent is a gift.
- A second language gives you power.