Great TED spoken word out of NYC by Jamila Lyiscott. She merges linguistic with racial identity, invokes history, speaks truth!
I keep posting about the possibility of dismantling the English-only laws that traveled across the country from 1998 through 2002 in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. With its bitter anti-immigrant politics and fear of a Mexican planet, Arizona seems unlikely to ever undo its English-only mandate. Massachusetts is barely any better, with politicians unable to muster the will to make changes after the state department rolled out a large-scale initiative to respond to Department of Justice findings that Massachusetts failed to serve large swaths of bilingual children across the state. Now California is poised to do what Arizona and Massachusetts have not: allow the voters to undo what they did back in 1998. After some time in the making, Ed Week reports that the November 2016 ballot will include legislation that undoes the 1998 law. From the article: "[E]xperts said that the debate will be much different this time around. Voters in California are now more comfortable with having a multilingual population". We shall see.
From Professors Elinor Saiegh-Haddad and Susan Rothstein:
At the end of August 2014, a number of members of Knesset in Israel proposed a bill to make Hebrew the only official language of Israel, and thus to demote Arabic from its current status as an official language of the State. Arabic is the native language of over 20% of the population in Israel, and it has been spoken here continuously at least since the 7th century. This proposal thus has both practical consequences and symbolic significance.
The Arabic Language Academy in Israel has circulated a general petition in Hebrew protesting this proposal. We feel that it is important, in addition, that linguists and experts in language research throughout the world add their voices to the protest. The text of the petition is below. If you would like to add your name to the petition you can access it at
When we have enough signatures, we would like to publish the text of the petition (in three languages) in Ha-aretz newspaper. If you are prepared to contribute to funding such an advertisement, please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org . We would need 50-60 people who are prepared to contribute 100 shekels each in order to fund the advertisement. If enough people are interested in contributing, we will let you know how to send the money.
Please sign the petition with your name and affiliation.
Please forward this to as many relevant people as possible.
Beginning in September of 2014, the teacher education program at Boston College's (BC) Lynch School of Education will begin a pilot of a dual-language certification program. Reported in the BC Chronicle today, I hope this gets some play outside BC circles. The Teaching Dual Language Learners (TDLL) certificate will be offered initially to incoming elementary education masters students who possess dual language proficiency in Spanish and English. In addition to completing targeted coursework on bilingualism, biliteracy, and dual-language education, TDLL students will complete placements in partner dual-language immersion programs in the greater Boston area.
Nice post, with a good video link, that revisits the human 'language instinct', and asks us to consider whether and how language develops when linguistic exposure is absent. The case of deaf children in Nicaragua developing their own linguistic system from limited language input provides good context to consider that "although children require a certain amount of linguistic input at a young age in order to learn language, they're capable of generalizing from incomplete information to something far richer and more complex".
Melissa Pandika at ozy.com writes a compelling article profiling Helen Tager-Flusberg and the influence she's had exploring the linguistic dimensions of autism, particularly in children. While the article spends time lauding the achievements of Tager-Flusberg as an unconventional autism researcher and, arguably, a feminist crusader in the male-dominated world of psychological research, the focus is squarely on the contributions of Tager-Flusberg in exploring the nature of language, its social functions, and its development as it relates to autism spectrum disorders.
NBC News Latino has a nice portrait on Duncan Tonatiuh, a dual citizen of Mexico and the US, who is a children's book author and illustrator committed to writing books that have a social and political message. He is influenced artistically by Mixtec art and orthography (Mixtec codex) and appears to have deep respect for children, which is refreshing. In the the interview, Tonatiuh remarks, "I think kids are extremely intelligent. But I think that sometimes we don't give them the credit they deserve....Hopefully my books help Latino children realize that their stories and their voices are important." The link includes some images from his books, which are indeed beautiful to look at.
In Massachusetts, HB479/SB225, a bill designed to increase district flexibility in programming for English learners, has died in committee, having been recommended for further study. The reasoning for the decision follows:
The recommendation for further study was made for the following reasons:
1. As a result of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) agreed to ensure that all teachers in the state receive appropriate training in sheltered English immersion. The state has invested close to $5,000,000 to date to train the first cohort of teachers to receive SEI endorsement through RETELL, and we have begun to see improved performance in English language learners (ELLs). For example, under state receivership, the Lawrence Public Schools have chosen to exclusively implement sheltered English immersion, and have seen improvements in their ELLs’ MCAS scores in English language arts, mathematics and science;
2. Level 4 and 5 schools have had the option since 2010, to implement alternative English language learner programs, such as dual language and transitional bilingual education. However, the overwhelming majority of those schools have chosen to continue to use sheltered English immersion for their ELLs who are showing signs of improvement while a Level 4 school that introduced a dual language program has had very poor results. In fact, the state has decided to eliminate that program for a number of reasons, one of which includes clear deficiencies in student performance and achievement;
3. School districts across the Commonwealth are in the process of implementing many new programs and practices, e.g. the Common Core Curriculum standards, new teacher and administrator supervision and evaluation requirements and the PARCC assessments. Consequently, many districts are struggling to meet these new responsibilities, and any additional changes would not be well received.
The bottom line was that the committee, with input from stakeholders, believe that "improved efforts are underway that will ensure all teachers receive appropriate training, that the state has invested millions on that training, that we are seeing improved performance in the students served by SEI programs, and that districts are in the process of implementing many new initiatives, this is not the right time to enact such legislation. Moreover, the fact that our lowest performing schools already have the flexibility to use programs other than SEI for their ELLs, but the vast majority has chosen not to do so, suggests that there is little demand for change."
It's sad, but clearly the political will in the state is limited at best. The push needs to shift away from changing the law, to promoting bilingual programs currently allowed within the law, specifically dual-language immersion programs.
Local Boston Radio show, Here and Now, recently ran a story on the benefits of language immersion, holding up a program in Anthem, AZ as a model. Children in this Phoenix suburb are immersed in a 1-way Mandarin immersion program, and score equally well on standardized test scores as their non-Mandarin-immersed peers. District officials are interviewed, touting the benefits of learning more than one language. Meanwhile, in Phoenix and elsewhere across Arizona, scores of native Spanish speakers are prohibited from being able to learn in two languages because the anti-bilingual education law is actively enforced. This phenomenon, of who gets to be bilingual and biliterate through schooling, and who doesn't, underscores the realities of discrimination and xenophobia in public education. According to recent census numbers, the population of Anthem is 89.7% White and 2.6% Asian. If Anthem, Arizona were home to a huge influx of Chinese immigrants, what is the likelihood that this Mandarin immersion program would survive?
IES has released a revision to its 2007 practice guide for English learners that takes into account the relative proliferation of research that has been published since 2007. The panel (on which I served) makes 4 recommendations, accompanied by specific "how-to's" that are characterized by instructional examples. The recommendations are as follows:
1. Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities;
2. Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching;
3. Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills; and
4. Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development
The recommendations are rather broad, and are constrained to the extent that the panel was only able to consult findings from studies that conformed to standards for experimental, or quasi-experimental, research set by the What Works Clearinghouse. So there is much more research out there that might help fill out these recommendations (or add to them) that was not included in the report. Still, the focus is squarely on the role of language, paying strong attention to the need to ELs to have opportunities to USE language in spoken and written form and not just listen to it. The guide is freely available here.