THE BLOG
08/08/2016 09:33 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2017

Save CA Residents from a Language Drought: Vote 'Yes' This Fall

This post was authored by: Netta Avineri, Assistant Professor, Applied Linguistics, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey; Susan D. Blum, Professor, Anthropology, University of Notre Dame; Suzanne García-Mateus, Visiting Assistant Professor, Education, Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX); Ana Celia Zentella, Professor Emerita, Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego.

The global elite are all multilingual. Why can't California's kids be
multilingual too?

This fall, California residents will have the opportunity to make an
important decision: Should the state embrace the global economy and
encourage students to learn multiple languages? Or should the state
retain the ban on bilingual education that began in 1998? If citizens
vote "yes", California's children will be able to communicate with
speakers of other languages within and beyond the United States, and
benefit from the cognitive and cultural advantages associated with
bilingualism. A "no" vote confines children to a single language.

Proposition 58-LEARN (Language Education, Acquisition and Readiness
Now) offers California state residents the opportunity to access an
untapped and invaluable resource that can provide an edge in the
global economy: multilingualism. The bill would authorize parents or
legal guardians of all pupils enrolled in the school "to choose a
language acquisition program that best suits their child" from among
many well-established educational methods.

Given the wealth of research that supports the academic, cognitive,
and social benefits of bilingualism one might assume there is
widespread support of the bill. Unfortunately, a belief system that
prizes only one language - English - is rampant.

Before the 1998 ban on bilingual classes, spearheaded by Silicon
Valley entrepreneur Ronald Unz, placed non-English speaking students
in English-only classrooms, 40 percent of students learning English
were in bilingual programs. Today, less than 5 percent of students can
learn English while they also learn other languages. Proposition 58-LEARN
seeks to remedy California's failure to effectively educate children whose
families may not speak English. The California state Senator who introduced
the bill, Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, argued that it would prepare all students "for a
future in which their success depends not only on an ability to
understand diverse perspectives and cultures, but also on an ability
to communicate in different languages."

"Dismantling bilingual education in 1998 did not result in obvious
and significant improvements in English language development in
California
," yet many choose to ignore recent experimental studies confirming that
students in bilingual programs consistently outperform students in
all-English programs on tests of English reading and continue to lobby
strongly against any form of multilingual education. (Krashen 2016)

The new bill provides benefits for all students, not only those
learning English for the first time. All students can act as language
resources for one another in classroom settings where becoming
multilingual is the goal.

At a local school district meeting in Central Texas, two students in
a dual language program--one Anglo and one Latino--testified in
Spanish (translated to English here) about the social, linguistic, and
cultural benefits of learning in two languages. Tallulah, a fifth
grader who learned Spanish because her parents wanted her to, was
pleased that "When we had a new student who came from México in 3rd
grade I was able to communicate with him because we both spoke
Spanish. I also speak Spanish when I need to help my parents when we
travel. One time, last summer, we went to Spain and I had to translate
everything for my parents and my older sister."

Luis, another fifth grader, whose family speaks Spanish, was
encouraged to learn both English and Spanish. He explains how he can
be useful: "When we go to an important place, like the bank, my mom
sometimes does not understand English very well and I am able to
translate for her. Also, when my grandparents receive important mail I
am able to tell them what the letter says.... It is really hard for [my
mom] to understand English so I have to speak to her in Spanish. My
mom helps my neighbor and my neighbor only speaks English so I help
both of them communicate with one another."

These two students exemplify the way two different worlds can exist in
the same classroom in two-way dual language education.

Multilingual education fosters intercultural interactions and empathy.
Bilingual education provides the most effective way to learn English
while students strengthen their home language. For all of California's
children, multilingualism is essential. We encourage voters to vote
YES on Proposition 58-LEARN.

We don't want drought-filled California to become famous for
diminishing yet another valuable resource, do we?