Different languages force the brain to perceive reality and describe it in different manners and having a common language erases borders.

Growing up in Wales, speaking Welsh sometimes in school reading bilingual signs for what seems to be forever is what reminds me of my childhood. There was no fear just acceptance that that was the way it was. Luckily at this point I didn’t know about the Welsh not and was horrified when I learnt of it during my late teenage years and remember not understanding why we went through that process in our history.

This news item interested me because the languages that are bilingual are not commonly put together today and also in many ways it mirrors some of the facts and experiences of my childhood where Welsh and English were part of daily life. In my experience some people knew only Welsh, some only English and others were on a path between the two.

Here is the story.

Languages have always fascinated me.  From an early age I realized that different groups of people spoke different languages–and the words they used provided a window into unique worldviews.

This was because I grew up in a bilingual community in Western Kansas.  To visit Hays, Kansas, today, a person might not realize, but in the first half of the twentieth century, a majority of the population did not speak English as a native language, but rather German.  The German speakers were descendants of as group called the Volga Germans, Bavarians who had immigrated to Russia for nearly a century, and then immigrated to the Great Plains of the United States.

My family owned a lumber yard and hardware store.  All of our store clerks were bilingual in German, since most of the farmers only spoke German, and many of the contractors preferred German for their daily needs.  Although my family was also of Germanic origin — we came from Switzerland in the mid-nineteenth century — we had abandoned our language nearly a century earlier.  My father had to make do with what he called “kitchen German.”

My best childhood friend came from a German-speaking family.  Although his parents were fully bilingual, his grandparents much preferred German.  There were kids in my class who spoke a very heavily German accented English, even though they were third generation Americans. In spite of being surrounded by German, it just never found its way into the language center of my brain, except for a few stock phrases, and (sadly) swear words.

As a result of a quirk of fate, my father had begun travelling in Mexico when he was in college, in the late 1930s.  My parents honeymooned in Mexico, and in the early 1950s we began to vacation in Mexico every year at Christmastime.  As a result, from a very young age, I was also introduced to Spanish, and being a small child immersed in the language, I began to pick it up, in a manner that never happened with German for me.

Growing up in a multilingual environment was a gift to me, and certainly affected how I view the world. So it felt natural to concentrate on language during my university studies. I served as an assistant instructor of Spanish and went on to pick up Nahuatl (the Aztec language) as I studied early colonial Latin America earning my doctorate. It was an interesting challenge to learn a complex language like Nahuatl as an adult, compared to how seemingly simple it had been to pick up Spanish when I was a boy.

Growing up in a multilingual environment is very beneficial for the intellectual development of a child.  Folks used to think that if a child grew up in a multilingual home, the child would suffer from never achieving true fluency in either language, or perhaps confusing one language for the other.  Modern research has proven just the opposite.  Children keep track of languages very efficiently.  Rather than diminishing their language skills, it enhances them.  This might be because different languages force the brain to perceive reality and describe it in different manners.  This confirms the old saw: “The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised.”

My wife and I saw this first-hand.  Our older son was raised in a bilingual environment, learning both Spanish and English from infancy.  When he was a toddler, we had great difficulty when he spoke to us in Spanish, because neither of us had learned Spanish baby talk.  Folks around us had to interpret for us.  As a Spanish teacher myself, it was very exciting to hear our son make exactly the same grammatical errors that his little friends did; errors which a native English speaker would not usually commit when learning Spanish, but perfectly in line with language development in Spanish. His Spanish skills have gone on to serve him very well in adulthood..

The study of foreign languages is simply the gift that keeps on giving.  It provides a person with multiple perspectives from which to view the world.  It actually strengthens the mind.  It allows a person to travel to other countries, which is also a great gift.  Most importantly, having a common language erases borders.  It allows one to put others at ease.

A second language is not only a benefit, it is a need.

I often blog about the need of our young people to learn a second language so that when they are leave school they are in a better place to gain employment but more importantly employment that they will enjoy. It was therefore lovely to see  this news article from America where the student had learnt Spanish and was now in work using it as a police officer to support himself, his colleagues and his community.

The officer doesn’t know her situation. Is she injured or being threatened,  and will she be able to communicate that in English?


In the past, language barriers were one of the more significant obstacles  that officers faced in carrying out their duty. Now, thanks to the Oklahoma City  Police Department’s bilingual unit, language issues have been largely  diminished.

Read more: http://newsok.com/speaking-a-second-language-helps-oklahoma-city-police-officers-do-their-job/article/3720840#ixzz2A2n9GrNf

Geddes Elementary: Dual Language Early On Reaps Benefits Later

I thought I had posted this last week but the letter gremlins seem to have taken it away into space.

“It’s important for me, because my children are from here. I’m from Mexico, and I want them to know their origins,” said Ana Lepe, speaking in Spanish. The 40-year-old mother of three has sent all of her children to Geddes because she also believes being bilingual will help them get better jobs in the future.

I liked this story because this school is obviously one where bilingualism is really treasured and supported by all within the community. Once again the question of jobs when the children reach school-leaving age are a focus, but sadly this is often forgotten by the policy makers.

What is useful for teachers is If you go through the links there is also a video showing how some of this is achieved.

“There’s a lot of research now that shows that dual-immersion programs/bilingual programs are teaching kids to read better,” she added.

One reason the dual-language program works at Geddes is because it’s one part of a strong academic structure, school officials say. Castro is obsessed with data: Teachers give assessments every two weeks in math and reading to see how their students are progressing and where they might need help.

As bi-literacy starts to become popular and general literacy is a focus in both USA and UK schools there are some lessons that can be definitely learnt from this school. Especially those wishing to become strong free bilingual schools.

The initial news story is interesting but if you go into the school website there are some amazing facts about their achievements.



The Challenge: For English Language Learners, mastering the language is even more difficult if they struggle with their first language.
The Solution: At Geddes Elementary School in Baldwin Park, Calif., young students in the dual-language program are taught in Spanish 90% of the day until third grade. This approach has led to significant achievement gains, with 60% of third-graders scoring proficient or above in English language arts in 2011.


Geddes Elementary School’s API score (California’s system for rating schools based on reading and math test scores) rose from 678 to 838 over four years, exceeding the state target of 800. Proficiency on English language arts tests doubled to 62 percent, and the percentage of the school’s students who are proficient in math rose by half, to 74 percent.


In the 2005-06 school year, 391 students (out of 901) had unexcused absences or were tardy at least three times at Geddes. The truancy rate was 43 percent. In 2010-11, by contrast, 192 students (out of 703) had unexcused absences or were frequently tardy. The truancy rate fell to 27 percent.


Parental participation went from only a handful of parents regularly visiting the school to between 40 and 50 attending monthly meetings with the principal.

The original news story can be found here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48897100/ns/today-education_nation/

The school information can be found here:



International company moves to area with more bilingual speakers.- USA

Many people argue that there is no point in keeping the learners first langauge alive as “they are in our country so they should use our language”.  There has not really been a  good reply, but this story shows how keeping the language alive allows companies to grow and become successful, and also regionally it can keep jobs in a certain area. Thinking of the amount of money it costs councils etc to attract companies the last thing they want to do is lose them.

It all stems from Chiquita Brands moving it headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte as they have more bilingual speakers. Cincinnati are fighting back by creating a database of Bilingual speakers.


CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati business group has launched a searchable database of the region’s multilingual students and professionals.

The Cincinnati USA Hispanic Chamber said it will spend the next few months building the database. Chamber president Alfonso Cornejo told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the goal is to connect those with language skills with companies and organizations who work with diverse domestic markets or operate internationally.         It’s meant as a development tool, and also to showcase the Cincinnati region’s resources. It’s expected to be available for searching by next February. He hopes to have 5,000 people registered within three years.

The database is being developed in partnership with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. The chamber’s corporate partner members, universities and churches will have unlimited access, while others will have limited access, Cornejo said.

The project was triggered partly as a response to the decision by Chiquita Brands International last year to move its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte, N.C., which has more bilingual people. The banana company cited that as among the reasons it made its move.

Some 5 percent of Cincinnati residents speak a language other than English. While the database can’t increase Cincinnati’s bilingual rate, it will help businesses like Chiquita locate those with language abilities.

“We were very frustrated that we lost Chiquita brands,” Cornejo said. “In the opinion of (Chiquita chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre), there was not enough bilingual talent in Cincinnati compared to Charlotte. Up to a point, he’s right. But we intend to overcome that.”

Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com

Bilingual School application for Spalding 2014 – UK

Another bilingual school for the UK hopefully, perhaps they can get support from the Brighton one.


The Phoenix Federation today announced that they are submitting an application to the Department for Education to open a Primary Bilingual Free School in September 2014.  This follows a successful application to the DfE to open a primary school in Boston in September 2013.

Denzil Shepheard, Chair of the Steering Group and also Phoenix Chair of Governors said:  “We know that there is a shortage of primary school places in the Spalding area.  However, we don’t want to open just another primary school, we will use the freedoms afforded by the Free School Movement to innovate.

“Parents will be able to choose a bilingual education for their children, Spanish and English, and in doing so give their children this gift to carry into their future lives, especially employment opportunities.”

The aim is that children starting at the school in the infants will be speaking Spanish fluently by the time they leave at age 11.  The Phoenix Federation have researched this type of education in-depth and found that the results are astounding.

Carol Clare, Principal of the federation commented:   “Speaking more than one language really helps with acquisition of knowledge generally, with research indicating that bilingual children out perform their non-bilingual peers in many other areas of the curriculum.”

It’s like when I go to another town, I don’t know Spanish, I can’t talk to anyone, I have no voice.”

It’s like when I go to another town, I don’t know Spanish, I can’t talk to anyone, I have no voice.”

How would you feel if this happened to you.  Competent to speak to friends and neighbours in one area of our global world and suddenly unable to communicate on reaching another town or village.

This is an interesting news article that explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language.


Intercultural Bilingual Education: a public policy priority
Research from Young Lives on the uses and attitudes towards Spanish and native languages in rural public schools was presented in Lima on 16 August, by the researcher Elizabeth Rosales. Her work explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language. It is based on a language test and in-depth interviews with children, their mothers and teachers. Rosales found that although a large proportion of both the children and their teachers were highly competent in the indigenous language, Spanish was mainly used by both of them in school. Teachers used their knowledge of the indigenous language primarily to ensure that the children learned better Spanish, rather than using the children’s native language as the medium of instruction.

“Spanish is highly valued as it is useful for children to continue to higher levels of education and to find work in the future” Rosales commented. She found consistent with previous research that parents prefer not to register their children in bilingual schools and do not expect better quality from those schools. Their attitude to their own native language can be attributed to a fear that their children will be stigmatised or they will lose opportunities to become completely fluent in Spanish.

Following the presentation, Elena Burga (Director General for Intercultural Bilingual and Rural Education within the Ministry of Education) and Madeleine Zúñiga (Vice President of the Foro Educativo), lead the discussion.

Madeleine Zúñiga emphasised that indigenous children have the right to receive an education in their own language. “They have the right to learn in their mother tongue… but what about the right to learn good Spanish?” she asked.

Elana Burga confirmed that the Government has allocated more resources to schools that offer bilingual and intercultural education, and that attitudes to indigenous languages and cultures are changing. However, she acknowledged that basic public services in indigenous areas – including many health centres, police stations and the courts – do not have access to sufficient interpreters. She added that more bilingual schools, better teaching materials, better training for new teachers, are all needed in order to reach all children. “Our aim is that all children should be able to learn in both languages,” Burga said, adding for this to be achievable will require efforts not just from government, but also civil society and researchers.

Read more about the event on the Niños del Milenio website [in Spanish]
Bilingual Education in Peru: Read the policy paper by Elizabeth Rosales [in Spanish]

Are we failing our bilingual students by language immersion?

There has been a few news items about bilingual teaching and the change to ELL  lessons where the student is unable to access prior experiences via their bilingual teacher.  It is very refreshing to read this from Helen Marques who has been through this process and who can also give such dramatic feedback about the difference these changes have made. I have highlighted in bold the items that I believe to be true from my classroom experiences.  The biggest impression I am left with is the drop out rate when their safety net within the classroom is removed…..is this what we are doing to our learners?


Creativity will develop English language learners

As the executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center Inc., I feel obligated to express my deep concern regarding the high school dropout rate among students for whom English is not the first language.

In 1971, the bilingual education program was implemented. Although it was not a perfect model, it created a safety net for English Language Learners. Classes were taught by bilingual teachers so that when students could not understand the lessons, teachers were able to explain in the students’ native language. This encouraged learning by easing their frustration and promoting confidence.

As a product of bilingual education, I know how important it is to have that support system in place in the classroom. The bilingual program was eliminated in 2001 and replaced with the English Immersion Program. This removed that safety net and ELL students started to fall through the cracks of the educational system. That is exactly what has been happening for several years in the New Bedford school system.

In 2011, the high school dropout rate for English Language Learners was 63.3 percent in four years. That is an alarming statistic. I am aware that a group of more than 36 teachers and educators recently authored a plan for revising the education of ELLs in New Bedford. Three school committee members voted to urge the superintendent to move forward on the plan: John Fletcher, Joaquim Livramento and Marlene Pollock. I am grateful to these members for standing up for an often overlooked population.

In addition, I support the two proposals for innovation schools, Renaissance Community School for the Arts and Esperanza School of Language and Culture. They both address the needs of ELL students and all of the children of New Bedford.

New Bedford has a great opportunity to move forward by making changes for the benefit of all of the children of New Bedford and to make sure that they have the educational tools that they need in order to succeed.

Helena S. Marques

Executive Director of Immigrants’ Assistance Center Inc.

New Bedford

UCR trains teachers for bilingual classes

Here is an interesting story about the neeed for qualified teachers in bilingual schools and the innovative way that online work is used to help support the adults whilst learning. I think that we shall see more use of online lessons as the austerity measures bite and adult learners need to work their way through their teaching qualifications.

The hybrid class includes class meetings and online work, so it fits in the schedule of teachers such as Pablo Ramirez, a Rubidoux High School math teacher.


Ramirez said he hopes to teach in a dual immersion classroom once Jurupa expands its program beyond elementary schools.


Jurupa started its first dual immersion class five years ago at Sunnyslope Elementary and another last year at Stone Avenue Elementary, said Martha Gomez, director of language services for the district.


The first class of dual immersion students at those schools will start fifth grade and first grade, respectively, next month. The schools plan to add another grade to the program each year until dual immersion goes through middle school and high school, she said.



Greater variety in second or third languages would encourage Puerto Rican citizens to look past the United States for opportunities

Sometimes it is good to have a different perspective which this story does. Puerto Rico is currently undergoing  a challenge wondering whether one, two or more languages is more important for a 21st Century curriculum for its children.  There are many different perspectives a few of which can be read about here.  I was interested that there is a  perceived need if they want their youngsters to be able to work in the world market maybe English and Chinese or Thai could be alternatives that need thinking about.

you can read more at:


here are a few snippets

Fortuño’s Plan For English Proficiency In Puerto Rico – Analysis

By Isaiah Marcano

With an electoral season approaching, the islands comprising Puerto Rico have once more become the center of debate and conflict. Recently, the current Governor of Puerto Rico and statehood advocate Luis Fortuño introduced a mandatory bilingual public-education program for all students on the islands. The initiative, called “Generation Bilingual,” emphasizes the importance of English proficiency among the islanders. Ultimately, his ambitious program aims to graduate a 100 percent English-Spanish bilingual class from secondary schools by 2022.(1) Given the economic upheaval and rise in violent crime on the island, Fortuño’s proposition is rather timely. The unemployment rate of roughly 14.2 percent has driven the local population to search for a desperate solution to its lingual and other woes.

Not all Puerto Ricans are convinced of the governor’s concern for their wellbeing, although bilingualism, especially fluency in English, is widely considered an essential asset for success in the globalized world. Though English is an official language of Puerto Rico and roughly 30 percent of the population has a relative command of the language, American culture and language remain alien for much of Puerto Rico’s Spanish-speaking majority.(5) Fortuño’s program of bilingual education has often been described as a step toward the further Americanization of the islands, although it remains in its nascent stages.(6) To this end, Secretary of Education Edward Moreno recently announced that American English will become the language of instruction in 31 of the islands’ public schools. More specifically, all subjects other than Puerto Rican history and Spanish language classes are to be taught in English.(7)

Moreover, the implementation of a mandatory English-Spanish bilingual program would further undermine the islands’ already substandard Spanish language education system. Exposing children to bilingual instruction prior to developing a command of the original mother tongue has definitive risks in the long run. Perhaps the most relevant includes a lack of mastery in Spanish or related subjects. Many argue that the government ought to address these flaws in the quality of education in Spanish prior to enacting any drastic changes. At this point, Fortuño’s plans might aggravate the shortcomings of the Puerto Rican public education system.(9) Additionally, research has shown that a command of the vernacular actually facilitates second-language learning to a great extent.(10)

Fortuño’s justifications revolve around the growing emphasis on English as an international language. These motives are untenable, however, given the growth of many states outside of the Anglo-sphere. Some increasingly useful languages include Mandarin, Hindi, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and French. Spanish has also seen a definitive rise in relevance as an international language.(11) Greater variety in second or third languages would encourage Puerto Rican citizens to look past the United States for opportunities and expedite the development of crucial ties with the rest of the world.

As the debate over Puerto Rico’s sovereignty hangs in the balance and the election for governor rapidly approaches, the world will watch to see which direction Puerto Ricans decide to take. Fortuño’s experiment is underway and islanders will have to soon determine whether or not a predominantly English language curriculum will address the archipelago’s unsettled woes of disproportionate unemployment rates and violent drug-related crime.

As an old island saying goes, “Lo que no conviene, no viene:” If it doesn’t help, it has to go.



What’s the point of the question? Were you testing her ability to count or speak English? – USA

This was a parents response to a teacher when the  child was asked to count to twenty. The child did so in Spanish and was marked as wrong. It begs the debate I often have with those who do not understand bilingualism what are you testing? Was your assessment criteria flawed? Did the child understand that they had to respond in English?

No one is blaming the teacher it is just a change in the way we view things.  In mine and the parents case any previous knowledge in whatever language it was demonstrated in is fine. As in my opinion they will pick up English as they go along, but pretending they have no prior learning eats away at their confidence and self-esteem daily.

Hursh helped the teacher see that she was ignoring the knowledge the child did have. Still, Hursh understands that teacher’s perspective.

“Before coming to Erikson, I would have thought the same thing: I have to get these children speaking English. Now, I’m confident that they’ll pick it up. In the meantime, I want to support them in what they are able to do.”

Meléndez agrees with this balanced perspective. “Of course, dual language learners need to learn English if they are to succeed in school and life, but the acquisition of their second language does not have to mean the loss of their first.”

If you want to read the rest of this there are some extracts below and the original can be found at http://www.erikson.edu/default/news/news.aspx?c=6054

Susan Pryor, M.S. ’09, a kindergarten teacher at Erie, leads her class’s chant:

Donde quiera que vamos Todos nos preguntan ¿Quien somos? Y decimos Somos Loyola, los niños de Loyola. ¡Hola!

Erie is a bilingual charter school predominantly serving Latino students in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The kindergarteners call themselves “children of Loyola,” because every classroom at Erie is named after a different university — a nod to the school’s goal of putting all students on the path to higher education.

“The commitment to graduating college-bound, bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural students is held by everyone, the teachers, the administration, the board,” says Pryor. “Everyone is on the same page.”

Erie, which partners with Erikson’s New Schools Project, is a model of bilingual education. However, there is no school system-wide commitment to high-quality biliteracy. Erikson seeks to change this by developing policies, practices, and teacher preparation programs to help meet these students’ unique needs.

DLL education in Illinois

In Illinois, nearly 8 percent of students are dual language learners (DLL), learning a home language and English simultaneously. The default program for educating them is a transitional bilingual program, which is designed to make non-English-speaking students proficient in English by third grade, when they first take the ISAT, or Illinois Standard Achievement Test. In this approach, the student’s native language is not supported beyond the transitional period.


The biggest thing teachers and administrators need to understand is the better a child learns his first language, the better he’ll learn his second language.”

Children are often rushed into learning English in the classroom, according to Meléndez, and parents are sometimes encouraged by teachers to speak English at home — even when they themselves have a limited command of the language.

“This causes many problems. The children start picking up their parents’ limited use of English, which isn’t accepted at school, but much worse is that their limited vocabulary keeps conversations to superficial exchanges. Their ability to have rich discussions and express abstract ideas is greatly diminished — a huge loss at that age.”

Perhaps most damaging, children whose native language is not supported may lose their ability to speak it. For immigrants, this may disconnect them from their family and their culture. In a short time, children could find that they are unable to communicate with their grandparents or interact when they visit their native country. This also wastes students’ bilingualism, which is something many English-speaking students strive to gain in their education.

Dawn Hursh, BESL ’11

“I’m always on my soapbox about dual language learners,” she admits, laughing. She recounts debating a teacher who had asked her students to count to 20. When one girl recited her numbers in Spanish, the teacher marked the response as incorrect.

“Later, I asked her, ‘What’s the point of the question? Were you testing her ability to count or speak English?’”

Hursh helped the teacher see that she was ignoring the knowledge the child did have. Still, Hursh understands that teacher’s perspective.

“Before coming to Erikson, I would have thought the same thing: I have to get these children speaking English. Now, I’m confident that they’ll pick it up. In the meantime, I want to support them in what they are able to do.”

Meléndez agrees with this balanced perspective. “Of course, dual language learners need to learn English if they are to succeed in school and life, but the acquisition of their second language does not have to mean the loss of their first.”