[EDLING:183] Re: L2 in US Schools

Maureen T. Matarese maureenmatarese at YAHOO.COM
Thu May 13 00:59:23 UTC 2004


Chris,

I both agree and disagree with your claim.  You see--it's too simple There are several problems that make this issue stickier than it needs to be (in no particular order):
1. Conflicting theories about pedagogy (i.e. communicative approach vs. product/audiolingual approach)
2. Conflicting theories about "America" and "American language"
3. Conflicting theories about testing
4. Problems others that I can't think of right now.

As Courtney suggested, the English-only movement in the United States is still going strong, and I would highly recommend "Language Loyalities" by James Crawford for a readable, historical account of this movement.  BUT--it's not easy enough to say that it's just about English Only.  Yes--people think that English is important, and that's a politically charged subject that brings in issues of English as a colonizing force that carries with it western ideology. However--more and more the government is trying to get linguists (for selfish purposes perhaps--but all the same...multilingualism is slowing gaining SOME distinction).  I agree that EFL teaching of other languages is poor in this country overall, but I don't think that it's ENTIRELY because of the government's desire to squish the culture of heritage language speakers (although many people would like to).

It also comes from a long held traditional pedagogy.  It comes from the reason why I can still sing 'Popeye the Sailor Man' and 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' in Latin (for what that's worth).  Repetition and the audiolingual method of making things habit is still alive and well the foreign language context, although many, many teachers are trying to change that.  This ties into the issue of testing:

I understand your beef with teaching to the test.  Many people agree with you.  What we have to remember (hoping I don't get crucified for this) is that people need tests that adequately test student knowledge in a subject.  SO--we can't have communicative tests if we're teaching audiolingually and visa versa.  So the question obviously is which do we change first.  In order to be fair--we can't start testing communicatively until we start teaching communicatively.  BUT THEN--teachers continue teaching audiolingually--because that's what the students will be tested on.  HAHA!  The rat race continues.  It's the chicken or the egg scenario.  The tests will change with the teaching changes--but who knows when that will happen--really.  I've been out of high school for a while now--so perhaps they're changing, and I don't know it.  The GRE is the way that it is not only because that's what people apparently value--but also because the test writers see these types of questions as
 eliciting the kind of information that people value.  From their side--why should they test people on things that they're not learning (pragmatics and acceptability--for example--rather than analogies (God knows how many times those come up in my daily life!).  You can't test something that you're not teaching--so as much as we hate the tests--ideologies have the change first.

Anyway--the answer is never simple--because language, pedagogy, and eduation are all political and tangled.  Moreover--there's probably a lot more that I haven't said....

Certainly, we have something to learn from your German friend though, and I know that our ESL classes here are DEFINITELY moving in that direction--and have been for years--so maybe it will trickle down into our foreign/heritage language depts soon.  I hear they're doing cool things in Jersey with that these days.

Best Wishes,
Maureen (Mo)

Courtney Garron <cfgarron at ureach.com> wrote:
Hi Chris,

I imagine that you'll have a lot of responses to your inquiry.
Your perception and concern are astute and impressive. As you
know, so many Americans are only concerned with ENGLISH. Plenty
of people, including some native-Spanish speakers, are part of
the growing English-Only movement in this country. It's scary
what other cultures and heritages some people are willing to
squelch in order to maintain their power.
Check out this website: http://www.us-english.org/

What does this have to do with L2 education in the country?
The most important aspect to consider in your questioning of why
things are the way they are. Who is in power and who has a
vested interest in maintaining the status quo? In this case,
it's monolingual English speakers who are the power-holders,
business leaders, politicians, etc. in the US (and therefore the
world). Bilingualism scares these people. They see it as a
deficiency instead of the tremendous advantage it is. These
days, the powers that be believe that we only really need
another language to communicate with the laborers who don't
speak English.

It's complicated, but I believe that your question is directly
related to the power structure in this country. Good luck in
your quest for information. And thanks for writing.

Courtney
Bilingual Bicultural Education MA student, DePaul University


---- On Wed, 12 May 2004, Forty8STITCHES at aol.com
(Forty8STITCHES at aol.com) wrote:

> Hey everyone,
>
> I just wanted to drop a line and give you the "inside scoop"
on the L2
> programs in US high schools. I'm only a junior in high
school, but I noticed
> something scary about how the schools here teach foreign
languages after I compared
> my Spanish skills to my German exchange student's English
skills. We've both
> been on similar tracks, and we've both studied our L2 for five
years; however,
> his English was much better than my Spanish (as an amateur
linguist, I threw
> out this whole business about English being the 'most
important language'
> now). So, I talked to him about his classes. He told me that
they were geared
> much more towards overall fluency, with added stress primarily
on speaking.
> Compared to the L2 programs (with the exception of ESL) of
high schools that I've
> studied, his school's English program seemed like a blessing
to anyone
> wishing to pick up another language. As for my conclusion
about schools, here it
> is: The second language programs of US grammar and high
schools, public and
> private, are in terrible condition. Instead of focusing on
fluency and
> instruction in the target language, programs have chosen to
emphasize test-taking
> skills, primarily those in regard to the SAT II and various
college exams.
>
> If anyone else has noticed this or a similar trend, please
explain the
> situation and possible causes.
>
> Thanks,
>
> --Chris
>
>
>


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