Beginning the 2017 - 2018 academic year, I'll be taking over directorship of the Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. If you have any interest in learning more about the program, please email me!
Nelson Flores recently posted "5 guidelines for white people who speak Spanish to consider when deciding when it may or may not be appropriate for them to use Spanish with Latinxs in the US". They are (see Dr. Flores' post for elaboration on each of these):
1) Mock Spanish is not Spanish
2) Not all Latinxs speak Spanish
3) Not all Latinxs who speak Spanish want to use Spanish with white people
4) Don’t expect Latinxs to be your Spanish teacher
5) Being bilingual doesn’t automatically make you an ally to the Latinx community
These are all critical and important dimensions of which White native English speaking Spanish speakers ought to be aware, but I am not sure they help me decide when specifically it is appropriate for me, a white English-Spanish bilingual (who speaks more than mock Spanish), to speak Spanish to Latinxs in the US. I don't pretend to know the answer here, but with critical humility, I offer a second set of guidelines, that are undergirded by Dr. Flores' 5 above. I try to mindful of these when I consider whether to speak Spanish to Latinxs in the US:
1) If I am spoken to in Spanish by a Latinx in the US, who I do not know, I will converge to Spanish, or feel free to do so. Otherwise, I typically use English as a default. There are some contextual exceptions, but this is the general rule.
2) If, in that default, it is clear that my Latinx interlocutor is emergent in their English proficiency, then I will often say something in Spanish as an overture to bilingualism. The nonverbal and verbal responses here tell everything about whether the person would rather switch to Spanish or remain in English. Or it sets up the possibility to translanguage as the conversation continues;
3) If I have a close friend or colleague with whom I have developed a dynamic linguistic relationship, I feel free to speak in English, Spanish, or translanguage as the situation/topic warrants;
English is the language of centralized and institutionalized power here in the US. We leverage it in schools, employment, civic engagement. Spanish and other languages are deliberately and conspicuously minoritized (see this recent reaction to bilingual communication in Arizona), which can make it easy for the do-gooder White bilingual to think that just because they speak Spanish they should because it legitimizes bilingualism, and/or elevates Spanish. Dr. Flores, particularly in his disdain of Tim Kaine's obsequious use of Spanish on the campaign trail, makes the important point that it is not this simple, and that White, native English speaking Spanish-speakers have a responsibility that goes beyond embracing the "celebrate diversity" model of bilingualism.
Recently at a block party on my street, I was talking with a Latinx neighbor and his spouse, both of whom I knew to be fluent Spanish speakers, but with whom I had only ever spoken English (per #1 above). However, my neighbor's Venezuelan mother was visiting and attending the event. She spoke very little English. My friend introduced me to her in English (he didn't know I spoke Spanish), and she said hi to me. I asked her how long she was visiting for, in English, and was met with silence. I repeated, "Cuánto tiempo estará Ud. visitando?", o algo asi. This began a 30-minute conversation, in Spanish, that allowed us to learn more about one another, and for me to learn more about my neighbor (#2 above). That conversation that would have been impossible in English. My friend and his wife also learned that day that I speak Spanish. Now, with them, the default language is still English, but a translanguaging precedent was set (#3 above), which gave me some important insights about when it is appropriate to speak Spanish with Latinxs in the US. Thanks to Nelson Flores!
From the Boston Globe, 4.10.15
Boston’s failings highlight flaws in state’s English immersion law
of Justice continues to find some Boston Public Schools failing to meet the needs of their bilingual students (“Schools’ language barriers persist,” Page A1, March 30). This may be due to the fact that the Boston schools are indeed failing, but maybe these schools are implementing our laws exactly as intended.
In Massachusetts, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative effectively abolished bilingual education in 2002, replacing it with Sheltered English Immersion, an untested approach to instruction for English learners. This law mandated that children who do not speak English fluently attend SEI programs “during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one school year.” The result? Thousands of English-learning children mainstreamed into classrooms with many teachers understandably unprepared to meet these students’ needs.
After 12 years of herculean efforts by the state to regulate SEI implementation with thoughtful diligence, the federal government continues to fault how English learners are educated. Could it be that the Boston schools are actually doing a good job of implementing a flawed law, and as a result our bilingual learners continue to struggle?
The Massachusetts law is ignorant with respect to second-language acquisition, bilingualism, and the instructional approaches that support English-learning children. We need innovative and diverse program models that are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of bilingual learners.
The great irony here is that, implemented correctly, this law may decrease learning outcomes for bilingual students, ensuring visits from the US department of Justice and Education in perpetuity. Our best option is to reconsider this pernicious law that neglects our students’ learning needs.
The writers are associate professors at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
So nice to see this headline from the Pew Research Center showing that, among Latino/a adults in the US, bilingualism is more common than English or Spanish dominance. In a recent survey, 36% of respondents claimed to be bilingual, while 25% spoke mainly English. However, 6 in 10 out of those 25% English dominant speakers also spoke Spanish (that is, they're bilingual too!). And, 38% reported mainly using Spanish. It all makes one question why we continue to use terms like language minority in research with people who speak multiple languages. The reality suggests linguistic forces in the US remain vibrant and we need to move toward additive, not subtractive, terminology.
There appears to be some steam gathering in the news media's reporting of the increasing popularity of dual language programs. Recent empirical evidence shows that English learning bilinguals in these programs are reclassified to fluent English proficient at slower, but higher, rates than their peers in non-dual language programs. New York City recently announced a push to increase the number of such programs city-wide, and now Prince George's County, Maryland has added 3 new programs. Catholic schools across the country are also moving forward, and attempting to link themselves with one another to promote biliteracy outcomes for an increasingly Latino population. Key going forward is to monitor whether and how these programs function in serving bilingual children who speak home languages other than English, as well as monolingual, minoritized children who are typically underserved in US schools.
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 email@example.com . 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.
the Claves curriculum website is live!
Also check out the book at Guilford Press
I am an associate professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, and director of the Curriculum & Instruction doctoral program. I serve as an associate editor at Child Development, Applied Psycholinguistics, and an editor at Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. I was a bilingual teacher in Detroit, MI and have worked in district, state, and nonprofit settings. I work with bilingual learners from multilingual homes in K-8 settings, thinking about language use and development, cross-linguistic relations, instructional interventions, and teacher practice. I've published a bunch of articles and book chapters, and have developed language and reading curricula. I always work in close collaboration with teachers to facilitate the translation of research to practice.