Sunday, May 25, 2008

Language Maintenance vs. Total Immersion

Hello everyone,
It's been a long time. Sorry for the long absence from the board. I hope everyone is well. I'll try and get back into writing mode by discussing the issue of teaching in the home-language vs. putting kids into classrooms that are run in their L2.
Most of the literature that I have come across seems to favor the initial teaching of children through their first language, then either through some transitional phase move to the second language or concentrate on L1 maintenance; either Static: prevent loss or Developmental: goal proficiency in home language (Otheguy & Otto 1980, The myth of static maintenance in bilingual education). The basic argument is that children who can develop cognitive competence through their first language can utilize their understandings in their learning of a second language. Learning through a first language helps build not only linguistic ability, but also helps to foster psychological factors such as motivation and openness toward learning (affective factors). Critics seem to suggest that concentrating on a first language (that is different to the main language of the surrounding environment) will take up time needed for learning of the main language, and that the home language will compete with the development of the main language.
That seems more like a fear of foreign languages than a logical argument against them. I believe that having more than one language can only increase learning opportunities that are non-existent in mono-cultural/monolingual environments.
In addition, part of learning language is about feeling a need to learn it, and developing that desire. When you drop a child ‘cold turkey’ into a foreign language environment, I think you create a substantial amount of stress for that child. Children will be forced to sit through classes that are completely incomprehensible, and somehow by some kind of Osmosis of language learning (Levenson, 1972, The language experience approach for teaching beginning reading in bilingual education programs), children will pick up a language. It doesn't work...!
According to Krashen (2006, Digest Vol.22 Issue 9)
“Research in first- and second-language acquisition has shown us that we acquire language when we understand what we hear and read, not when we don't…English learners will be forced to sit through several hours a day of incomprehensible instruction. This is a waste of time and money - and a cause of needless frustration for children eager to learn English.”
I would think that in doing so, children would start becoming more defensive. Also because their base language is being de-valorized so much, it may even cause confusion and resentment toward the new language and culture. Legislation, such as article 227 has the potential to alienate, rather than help Ss. I think that it is important to make individuals feel a sense of value for the stuff that they have already learned. We need to provide an environment that facilitates the gradual integration of the new language and that supports both by providing recognition and acceptance of all home languages. Providing such support need not be costly or time-consuming. It would however take individuals who are attuned to the value of a multi-lingual/cultural environment.
Steven Mondy