Spanish Classes for Native Speakers Grow

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Apr 21 19:54:04 UTC 2005

Spanish Classes for Native Speakers Grow

Wed Apr 20, 8:24 AM ET

By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Associated Press Writer

EMPORIA, Kan. - Rosa Perez chats easily in Spanish, but the 15-year-old
having arrived in the United States more than a decade ago  never learned
to write in her native tongue. That's a skill she and a growing number of
Hispanic students in public schools and colleges are working on in classes
often called Spanish for Native Speakers, which aim to make students
biliterate as well as bilingual.

For Perez, who attends Emporia High School, the early results have led to
writing letters to her aunts and cousins in Mexico. Her parents, both
workers at a Tyson Foods Inc. meat packing plant, were thinking ahead to a
potential career for their daughter when they encouraged her to take the

"They said, since other people get good money translating, maybe I could
do that," said Perez, who wants to become an elementary school teacher and
work with Spanish-speaking youngsters.

Hospitals, schools, police departments and many corporations are clamoring
for bilingual workers, and language experts believe classes like the one
Perez takes could help fill the need. By 2050, studies suggest, Hispanics
will constitute 25 percent of the nation's work force.

The classes have been offered since the 1980s by many schools in the
southern border states such as Texas and California. They have grown
increasingly popular, however, as more and more immigrants moved north, to
the Midwest and even the Northeast,

Ana Roca, who teaches Spanish and linguistics at Florida International
University in Miami, recently offered advice to a college professor in
Maine about teaching native Spanish speakers.

"Now, a few years ago, if you had told me someone from Maine would want to
meet to talk to me about issues regarding starting a Spanish for native
speakers section, I would have said, 'Maine. That doesn't sound likely.'
But it is," said Roca, who co-edited a book, "Mi lengua: Spanish as a
Heritage Language in the United States."

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimates about
141,000 middle- and high-schoolers in 2000 were enrolled in Spanish
classes designed specifically for native Spanish speakers. The group is
conducting another survey this year and expects a significant increase.

At the high school level, the courses often resemble traditional language
arts classes with an emphasis on grammar, vocabulary and writing
instruction in Spanish. At the elementary level, the classes often include
English and Spanish speakers learning one portion of the curriculum in one
language and the rest in the other language, said Marty Abbott, the
council's education director.

When done well, she said, the classes can help Spanish speakers  a group
with traditionally lower-than-average test scores and above-average
dropout rates  connect with their schools. She said there has been a rise
in native Spanish speakers taking Advanced Placement Spanish courses  and

"I think that helps students see an academic vision for themselves, that
there's a reason to stay in school," she said.

The classes aren't without their challenges. Students come from different
Spanish-speaking countries and different regions, each with its own
dialect. Some children arrive in class just days after arriving in the
United States, while others were born in the United States and grew up
speaking mostly English.

In Emporia, teacher Daniel Sanchez's class includes five or six newcomers.
Some don't have an academic background in English or Spanish, leaving them
struggling to write in either language. Sanchez switches back and forth
between English and Spanish to reach both newcomers and the students who
grew up in America.

Sanchez talks with his students about his own struggles learning English.
He immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was in high school
so his parents could work at a meatpacking plant in Garden City in western
Kansas. He also worked at the packing plant during his last semester of
high school and summers in college.

"If a few students can benefit from learning a more academic Spanish that
can be used in the work force, it's always a benefit," he said, "not just
to a certain group but to everyone."

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