Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On the road again

I'm on the road again. I'm off to Los Angeles for the rest of the week and then off to Carlsbad for a quick vacation with the rest of the family. I skipped my morning run this morning. I evidently did more damage to my right knee with my "cone" accident this past Sunday than I thought. The back of my right knee bothered me all afternoon yesterday and was still stiff this morning. I hope to get in a run on Thursday morning in Manhattan Beach ... but will see (getting old is hell, avoid it if you can).

WARNING: Non-Running, semi-political topic to follow

My wife works for a small non-profit organization that supports pre-school education for "at risk" children in Phoenix. In plain English, the group provides pre-school education for families that are living in abysmal conditions for which sending their children to pre-school is far beyond their financial means. In Phoenix, this translates to our large Hispanic under-class.

I got a chance to spend some time in each of the 4 classes supported by this group this morning and was amazed at the language abilities of the children. Putting the corrosive politics of illegal immigration aside for a few minutes (if that's possible), we in the USA have a lot to learn from these 4 year olds. In particular, our long standing insistence that language education is only appropriate for kids of high-school age.

The comprehension of the syntax, vocabulary and grammar associated with both English and Spanish exhibited by each of these children certainly exceeded my abilities with any two languages. These kids started pre-school in August not speaking a word of English and had somehow become conversational in 4 months. Although they all had picked up a great deal of English in the first 4 months of pre-school, the one class in which the teacher only addressed them in English was remarkably different.

These kids all spoke English with the same flat "mid-Western" accent prevalent in the more affluent sections of town; however what set them apart from their pampered peers further to the north was their ability to flow back and forth between speaking English to the teacher and Spanish between themselves. I dare say that the Escalade encased children in my neighborhood couldn't pull this off.

As someone who has struggled to learn French as an adult and watched my three children struggle with the sad state of language eduction in our High Schools, I was amazed at the obvious. We really need to be introducing comprehensive language education much earlier in the education cycle than high-school. As those of you living outside of this country already know, being able to speak multi-languages has it's advantages. Someday, we'll figure this out and get kids thinking mulit-lingual when their minds are still mailable enough to pick it up ... or not ...

7 comments:

angie's pink fuzzy said...

i agree about kids learning language earlier - the earlier the better they pick it up!

Ewen said...

What's worrying down here is hearing kids who watch a lot of US television saying some phrases with an American accent!

Asian languages are becoming more popular in schools - our new PM is fluent in Mandarin.

Anne said...

What a wonderful thing your wife's organization is doing to break the cycle of poverty and give these kids a better chance of succeding in both K-12 school and beyond.

It reminds me of a friend who adoped a Russian girl, age 6, who didn't know a lick of English when she enrolled her in second-grade. Amazingly, when I went back to visit them a year later, she was almost fluent in English. Today, she's at the top of her class.

Deene said...

it's best to learn new languages at a younger age than middle- or high school.
take care of the "coned" knee before your big run.

Addy said...

As I'm attempting to learn spanish from my amazing bilingual first graders, I couldn't agree more with you on this point. There are a number of bilingual schools in Santa Cruz, where students speaking English are taught spanish and students speaking spanish are taught english in increasing amounts until both are bilingual, and it's great for all.

One point on which I might have to respectfully disagree (if I'm understanding your point correctly!) is on the value of english only instruction. While English aquisition might be amazing, it's equally important to keep ties to their primary language, as studies done in this area make clear that a solid primary language base will greatly enhance the learning and use of second languages. Also, by expressing value for that primary language by it's use within the classroom, the child's home life and culture are shown as being valued.

And I've gotta say, trying to speak to my kids in spanish gives them the biggest smiles on earth, even if I butcher it. Just shows you care :)

*stepping down*

Kids are amazing though!

Good luck recovering from your cone incident!

miss petite america said...

AMEN.

an upside to learning languages is earlier, is also learning about other cultures earlier. as it is pretty difficult to introduce language without also introducing culture.

i could go off on a rant about this, but i think i'll keep my opinions to myself..

J~mom said...

I don't know if you read on my blog or not but I am taking my ESL classes for when I go back to teaching again. It's such a colossal joke. :<(