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The debate on whether to allow the US immigrants to use their first languages has brought a controversial debate with individuals from various sectors taking different sides. The fact that 18% of all students in the U.S. are speaking other languages and not English when at home makes this topic to be of great significance. Moreover, a study reported by Capps et al. (2012) reveals that among the students drawn from immigrant families, 72% speak a different language, other than English at home. This raises the question of the importance of allowing the immigrant students to make use of their first language, as they learn noting that their proficiency in English is very low. This study seeks to find out the fact behind the hypothesis that preventing learners from using their native language is more dehumanizing as well as assimilating. It will help to establish whether immigrant learners are likely to benefit more when they hold on to their native languages.
Keywords: immigrants, immigrant learners, English as a second language, native language, English
There has been a debate in the ESL field whether it is necessary for English language learners to be allowed to use their native languages, as they learn English. Though a section of stakeholders oppose this move is based on the notion that the utilization of native languages hampers the students’ learning of English, this topic needs some consideration. Those in support of the approach have argued that allowing learners to maintain and openly use their native languages enables them to learn English faster and even achieve higher academic success (Capps et al., 2012).
This research is designed with the main goal being finding out the fact behind the hypothesis that preventing learners from using their native language is more dehumanizing and more of assimilation. It will help establish whether immigrant learners are likely to benefit more when they hold on to their native languages. To realize this goal, the study will seek to achieve the following as its objectives;
The controversial debate and the interesting findings on whether or not immigrant students should be allowed to use their native language necessitate an independent study on this topic. The study will specifically help find out the contributions that can accrue from schools allowing immigrant learners use their native language while dispelling the misconceptions which have kept immigrants students suffering in their bid to be successful. To fulfill its purpose, the study will be directed by a number of research questions. These include:
ESL education is increasingly attracting the attention of most children from immigrant families. Most of these children join the learning institutions when they are not able to read as well as write in English. There is an increasing number of immigrant children in elementary schools, there is a need for the policy makers and school administrators to come up with new ways to ensure an effective ESL education. This will help increase the immigrant students’ chances of excelling in their elementary stage of education. This is especially true, noting that most of them lack appropriate literacy skills to sustain conversations and grasp concepts in class. Moreover, most of the reasons given for not promoting the use of native languages in education are merely based on misconceptions and have continued to promote such vices as segregation in the country’s education system. Though many researchers have focused on the topic, no study has narrowed its scope to the extent that this one will seek to do.
According to Walqui (1998), the very first step of ensuring that immigrant students receive a quality education is gaining a good understanding of their linguistic backgrounds. He adds that it is vital for schools to examine the common misconceptions about allowing students to use native language in schools. There is also the need for more understanding on the complexity involved in the process of acquiring a second language.
Waqui notes that the most unfortunate thing is that whether they are based on false premises, misconceptions that surrounds allowing immigrants to use their native languages in schools negatively affects the perceptions of learners. Thus, it greatly contributes to their poor learning outcomes and even high rates of dropout. Such misconceptions have led to the implementation of policies which are biased towards the immigrant students in the education system, as they promote such vices as segregation. Such challenges have seen most immigrants who register for ESL education drop out of high school. A good example is in Texas where the dropout rate of the immigrants who register for ESL stands at 80% (Capps et al., 2012).
The statement that all the immigrant students prioritize learning English is false. It must be acknowledged that irrespective of the fact that development in language forms part of the reason for schooling among children, it does not matter whether learning takes place in a native or English language. Equally, as students move from one education level to another, the role of language development will be shifting, since it will be majorly used to support the academic and cognitive development and not the initial writing and reading. This means that overemphasizing on the need for immigrants to be efficient in English does not help much, especially among the high school students, whether immigrants or not.
This is because, at high school level, the students’ major focus has shifted to the need to develop their cognitive skills and streamline their career to specific professions. Thus, it is true to state that insisting on children using English in schools is a biased policy aimed at socializing them into their various schools’ and country’s culture. This is unfortunate, especially when one puts into consideration the fact that students’ future success is not mere determined by being fluent in English but an amalgam of different disciplines (Parmon, 2011).
It is equally not right to assume that once a student is able to communicate in English, then he will automatically have the ability to conceptualize all mainstream courses which are offered in English. It must be noted that competence in communication has the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), as well as Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS). The truth is that English usage will help improve student’s BICS, which basically involve their ability to use English in the face to face communication. However, it takes more than knowing English to attain CALP, which refers to the ability to use English in technical situations, where the context is not very obvious. This will require cognitive skills which learning English may not guarantee (Shoebottom, 2014).
Equally, whether or not promoting learning in a native language will negatively affect the ability of students to learn English is debatable. Walqui (1998) notes that the argument that the time teachers spend in teaching native languages impacts negatively on the amount of time that will be available on the rate at which the learners will be able to learn is equally wrong. To him, the native language should not be seen as reducing the learners’ exposure to English. Fillmore also agrees that it is not true that teaching native language is interfering with the learning of English by reducing the need for the language among students (Fillmore, 1991).
The argument that if students are allowed to learn in their native languages, they will simply replace English with their native languages as the official communication languages may equally not be true. It must be known that the quality of exposure to the second language is more vital than its quantity. However, the amount of time spent by a student in solving a task does not singlehandedly lead to learning, more exposure to the second language does not necessarily promotes its learning. Instead, there is a need for the learners to understand and participate in the events designed to promote the learning of the language, while also being emotionally and attentively involved in its learning process. According to Parmon (2011), accumulation of cognitive, as well as academic skills in the learners’ first language is important in their development of the same skills in English.
To enhance its reliability, this study narrows its scope to the schools within the state of Texas which has experienced high rates of the dropout of the immigrants, enrolling in ESL. It will consider sampling five schools to take part in the study. The study will consider using random sampling to get immigrant students from each selected school. The researcher will also consider as its important confidants, one teacher from each considered school’s language department. Also, the five officials from the relevant government agencies, especially those who are directly involved in the formulation of education policies affecting the learning of languages, have to be taken into consideration.
The researcher will then use the one-on-one interview and focus group discussions, as the preferred methods of obtaining data from participants, since they give one an opportunity to get more information. In instances where any of the participants will be busy to take part in the face to face interview, the research will seek their permission to be interviewed through their mobile phones. A part from the primary data, the researcher proposes to conduct an extensive interview on the topic of study to know what has been done about the topic. The analysis of the resulting data will then be done using such tools as the Likert scale.