Illinois: To mandate or motivate in Carpentersville

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Mar 5 14:55:27 UTC 2007

To mandate or motivate in C'ville


March 3, 2007

By Ben Lefebvre STAFF WRITER

CARPENTERSVILLE -- Elizabeth Martinez doesn't try to fool anybody about
her English language ability. "Little," she says about her fluency. "It's
low. I have a little problem with pronunciation." Martinez, born in
Chicago, moved with her family back to her parents' native Mexico when she
was 4 years old, she said. During the next 24 years, she went to Mexican
school, learned the Spanish language and eventually received her
bachelor's degree in psychology.

Last year, she said, the family moved again. This time it was to
Carpentersville. Now the 28-year-old U.S. citizen sits in third- and
fourth-level English-as-a-second-language courses at Elgin Community
College, hoping it will help her attain a master's degree. She becomes a
little agitated, however, when she hears that Carpentersville village
trustees plan to propose making English the government's official language
-- essentially dropping most Spanish-language versions of government
programs, literature and official forms. She recalls the time she had to
ask for Spanish-language forms while changing her address. Although her
ability to read English is stronger than her speaking ability, she said,
she wanted to make sure she was following village rules correctly.

"This is a big problem," she said. "Sometimes, my English is little," she
said. "Sometimes, I don't understand. Sometimes, I think it's OK, but
maybe really I have a problem." How to assimilate? "This is important,"
said Trustee Paul Humpfer, who is sponsoring the proposal with Trustee
Judith Sigwalt. "This is the United States and English is language that's
spoken in this country. It is important that people assimilate and
understand English." That most immigrants consider it important to learn
English isn't in dispute. In a June 2006 survey conducted by the Pew
Hispanic Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research center, 57 percent of
Latinos agreed with the statement "immigrants have to speak English to say
they are part of American society," while 92 percent of Latinos said it
was "very important" that children of immigrants learn English.

Instead, some experts argue, the issue is whether learning English and not
having access to Spanish-language government services are two different
things. While Humpfer said he hopes the proposal, if passed, would
encourage immigrants to learn English, others aren't so sure. "Basically,
we don't think that resolves any problems," said Michele Waslin, director
of immigration policy research at the Washington, D.C.-based National
Council of La Raza, a national Latino civil rights organization. "We have
proof immigrants want to learn English, but making English the official
language without providing resources to help people learn English doesn't
solve anything."

Laws fail to motivate

Paula Winke, assistant professor of second language studies at Michigan
State University's department of linguistics and languages, has researched
motivation in learning second languages. "I know of no evidence that
passing such laws motivate nonnative speakers of English to learn
English," she said. "Rather, the laws seem to ...  promote a reduction in
services for those who do not speak English, regardless of whether they
are American citizens or not." In fact, Winke said, motivating immigrants
to study English is far from being a problem. Instead, as the immigrant
population around the country continues to rise, she said, ESL classes are
not expanding accordingly -- even at her own university. "I am currently
directing a free English-language program here at Michigan State
University, and we fill the classes to capacity every semester we offer
them," she said. "There are just not enough basic and affordable English
classes around.

"If the true goal is to get more English language learners into the
classroom," she said, "perhaps better legislation would be to introduce a
bill that would promote state-funded English language classes at community
colleges and resource centers that target low-level English-language

Cost impedes ESL interest

In the Fox Valley area, many people wanting to learn English visit ECC.
Students congregate at its language institute in Elgin and attend ESL
morning classes at St. Monica Catholic church in Carpentersville and night
classes at Dundee-Crown High School. The college splits the program into
10 levels, said ESL program director Andrea Fiebig. About 2,500 students
attend the first four levels, which are free. The problem, she said, is
that 80 percent of them then drop out once they reach level five, where
the college starts charging $280 per course. "The first four levels teach
basic survival skills -- greetings, very, very basic writing, recognizing
sentences," she said. Higher levels "would help people who want to hold
jobs and get into the workplace." In February, state Sen. Martin Sandoval,
D-Cicero, introduced a bill that would provide $25 million annually for
ESL courses in churches, civic centers and workplaces for low-income
residents. The Senate's higher education committee is reviewing the bill.

Taxpayers rights?

The list of government literature and services in Carpentersville that
would become available only in English still is being worked out, Humpfer
said. Emergency services still would be offered in Spanish, he said, but
continuing the Spanish-language versions of the such public safety
initiatives as the police department's gang-awareness presentations would
be up for discussion. As written, the proposal states that "unless
explicitly mandated by the federal government, the state of Illinois or
the Village of Carpentersville, all official village business, including
but not limited to meetings, proceedings, forms, documents, publications
and signage, will be conducted and written in English only." That
potentially could include the Spanish-language voting ballots given to the
village by Kane County, which isn't an exception in the draft. It also
would include Spanish versions of the village newsletter, the information
packet given to new village residents and the annual water bill statement.

Although the village doesn't keep track of how much it pays overall for
Spanish-language material, Village Manager Craig Anderson said he doesn't
think it adds up to much. He said the village pays about $300 annually for
its Spanish newsletters, and maybe $80 per election for Spanish-language
voting materials. The proposal is expected to encounter a healthy dose of
debate. Village President Bill Sarto already has come out against it, and
Trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, who's also a member of the
Carpentersville Community Alliance, said she, too, probably will vote
against what she considers a flawed proposal. "The Spanish-speaking
residents here pay taxes," she said. "They're entitled to something for
their tax money."

If the village is serious about helping its immigrant community learn
English, Sliwinski said, it would do better to offer more carrots than
sticks. "If this is the route they want to go and push the issue, that's
fine -- but offer an alternative," she said. "The village should offer a
place to hold English classes.",3_1_EL03_A1ENGLISH_S1.article

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