Program enlists Santa Ana parents as 'first teachers'

Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Tue Sep 21 16:47:42 UTC 2004

Interesting.  The "non-nons" sounds like that article on "semilinguals" in
Sweden.  The idea caught on very well among non-linguists.  I hear it a lot
here in Brazil to describe the speech of Indians who are shifting to
Portuguese, and I've heard it in Canada do describe Inuit who are shifting
to English.  But I thought subsequent research was never able to prove there
was any such thing as semilingualism.

Stan Anonby

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Friday, September 10, 2004 2:53 PM
Subject: Program enlists Santa Ana parents as 'first teachers'

> Language Series Speaks to Families
> Program enlists Santa Ana parents as 'first teachers' to help their
> children develop skills.
> By Joel Rubin
> Times Staff Writer
> September 6, 2004
> As he has done twice a week for months, 3-year-old David Damasio nestled
> himself between his mother and Ines Victor on the family couch in a
> cramped Santa Ana apartment. Victor opened a children's book and began
> reading in Spanish to the wide-eyed boy, pausing frequently to gently
> pepper him with questions about the story line. "Rojo, gris!"  red, gray
> David said in his native tongue, pointing to colored hats on the page.
> Throughout, Victor kept an eye on Sonia, David's mother, to ensure she was
> paying attention. She pressed the quiet woman to mimic her and ask David
> questions. In coming years, when David enters Santa Ana's public schools,
> he probably will be taught entirely in English. To prepare him for that
> day, he and his mother are working with Victor as part of an unusual
> outreach program rooted in a city with one of the country's most
> concentrated Latino immigrant populations.
> Started four years ago by UC Irvine cognitive scientist Virginia Mann,
> HABLA helps impoverished Latino immigrant parents who often don't know how
> to build their young children's language skills. "Parents are the first
> teachers, but a lot of these parents don't know what to do," Mann said.
> "We know these early years are when children start to learn languages, and
> if Spanish is the only language you are able to teach them in, then that
> is what you have to do. If a child has language skills in Spanish, it will
> translate into English."
> HABLA (Home-based Activities Building Language Acquisition) serves about
> 250 families nearly all immigrants from Mexico with children between 2 and
> 4. There are no firmly defined eligibility requirements, but Mann and her
> staff consider only parents with little education and low incomes. The
> mean income for HABLA families is $16,000, and parents typically have
> eight or fewer years of schooling and little command of English. Home
> visitors like Victor work with families over two six-month sessions.
> They bring a Spanish-language book or a toy to each half-hour lesson,
> which is used as the day's learning tool and then given to the family.
> Through reading and play, the home visitors demonstrate to parents how to
> engage their children in the freewheeling conversations that help develop
> a child's vocabulary and language skills.
> Mann cited research that shows that economically disadvantaged parents
> speak about 300 fewer words each hour to their children than more affluent
> parents do. "There is a vacuum of language, a real loss of words." And
> while early-intervention reading programs similar to HABLA have existed in
> English for years, state education officials said Mann's program was one
> of only a few in California conducted in Spanish and that offered home
> visits.
> Mann and other child development experts said research has made clear that
> young children who build a foundation of skills in their native language
> are able to learn a second language more quickly. "These children will
> learn English," said Linda Espinoza, a professor at the University of
> Missouri who studies early language development. "The question is, will
> they have the opportunity early on to expand their vocabulary and to learn
> to think abstractly?"
> In Latino immigrant homes, the answer is often no. Espinoza and Harry
> Pachon, a professor of public policy at USC, said undereducated parents
> whose own parents did not read to them when they were young typically do
> not know how to develop their children's language skills. The result, Mann
> said, are one-way lines of communication in which parents often issue
> orders and ask questions that require a yes-or-no response.
> "I didn't know how to teach my son," said Victor, who participated in
> HABLA before she became a home visitor. "But I didn't want the same thing
> to happen to him that happened to me  the first book that was ever read to
> me was after I started school."
> Some parents are also reluctant to speak Spanish to their children out of
> fear that it will retard their learning of English. Mary Baker, principal
> of Madison Elementary School in Santa Ana, said that when a new class of
> kindergartners arrives, her teachers can quickly tell which children do
> not have skills in either language. "They often don't even know their
> names," she said. "We call them 'non-nons,' " because they are non-English
> and non-Spanish speakers.
> Such will not be the case for David Damasio. When they leave their
> apartment, his mother said, they often discuss objects or places that he
> recognizes from books. In similar scenarios with her older daughter, Sonia
> Damasio said, there was silence.
> As her son rambled excitedly in Spanish, she repressed a chuckle and shook
> her head wearily. "He talks so much," she said.

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