Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

First language ed. & other lang. skills (Re: not much help)

Expand Messages
  • Don Osborn
    Stephen Krashen posted a reaction on Multied-l to a 2/21 letter (below) to LATimes about a report on English fluency, which prompts some tangential
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 2, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      Stephen Krashen posted a reaction on Multied-l to a 2/21 letter (below) to
      LATimes about a report on English fluency, which prompts some tangential
      reflections. He wrote, in part:

      "It is obviously false that 'children cannot learn English until they have
      some degree of fluency in their native language.' Of course they can. What
      we have argued is that developing literacy (not spoken fluency) in the first
      language can accelerate English literacy, and that learning subject matter
      in the first language can make English input more comprehensible. Bilingual
      education is very HELPFUL, but we can not claim that it is NECESSARY."

      It is interesting to take this passage out of its original context and from
      another point of view: Looking (as a non-expert in African ed.) at over a
      half century of mainy monolingual education over most of a region that is
      mainly multilingual - subSaharan Africa :

      1) It is true that children can learn English (or French or Portuguese)
      without much more than a "degree of fluency in their native language" and
      zero literacy. Many have, although many more have not (after all we're
      talking about systems descended directly from ones that were in part
      designed expressedly to "leave children behind" in promoting an elite). The
      question is at what cost to (a) the individuals and (b) the local and
      national communities of which they are a part.

      2) A question that does not seem come up in the US context (in my short
      observation) is how fluency - really deepened knowledge - in the maternal
      languages is compromised by educational systems that ignore them (in the
      African colonial period students were actually punished for using the
      "vernacular" in school, not unlike in schools for Native Americans in the
      US). Maybe the question should come up more explicitly in the US context -
      are schools shortchanging children from non-English backgrounds if they
      don't provide first language education as part of a bilingual curriculum?
      (This is a different question than how first language literacy facilitates
      learning English.)

      3) A concept I've previously brought up that interests me in this context,
      though I am not in a position now to give it the necessary theoretical
      foundation, is "impaired bilingualism" - i.e., where a person receives
      little or no schooling (or even informal education) in their maternal
      language, and inadequate education (in terms of methods and/or years in
      school) in the school language, so has impaired or undeveloped skills in
      both, or at best good skills in one. This is tragic since such individuals
      could have acquired strong knowledge of both.

      Don Osborn
      Bisharat.net



      http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-le-fluency21feb21,1,7403601.story

      February 21, 2004
      COMMENTARY, LA Times
      When English Isn't First
      Re "Report Details Long Road to English-Language Fluency," Feb. 14: The
      reality is that children cannot learn English until they have some degree of
      fluency in their native language. The less literacy you have in your native
      language, the less likely that you will be able to master another language.
      If you really want children to learn English, you need to help them achieve
      meaningful fluency in their native language first. We are just setting these
      children up for failure.

      Andee Steinman
      Palm Desert
    • Don Osborn
      Last March 2 (in msg. #85, First language ed. & other lang. skills ) I wrote the following concerning what I dubbed impaired bilingualism. Not surprisingly,
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 18, 2004
      • 0 Attachment
        Last March 2 (in msg. #85, "First language ed. & other lang. skills")
        I wrote the following concerning what I dubbed "impaired
        bilingualism." Not surprisingly, others have been working in this
        area long before, with the terms "semilingualism" and "limited
        bilingualism" being used. (more below)

        --- In Multilingual_Literacy@yahoogroups.com, "Don Osborn" <dzo@b...>
        wrote:
        [ . . . ]
        > 3) A concept I've previously brought up that interests me in this
        context,
        > though I am not in a position now to give it the necessary
        theoretical
        > foundation, is "impaired bilingualism" - i.e., where a person
        receives
        > little or no schooling (or even informal education) in their
        maternal
        > language, and inadequate education (in terms of methods and/or
        years in
        > school) in the school language, so has impaired or undeveloped
        skills in
        > both, or at best good skills in one. This is tragic since such
        individuals
        > could have acquired strong knowledge of both.
        >
        [ . . . ]

        Semilingualism "postulates that certain populations of learners know
        no language at all, or speak all languages in their repertoire with
        only limited ability" (MacSwan 2000) and the term "limited
        bilingualism" was coined by J. Cummins in 1981 as a more benign
        sounding alternative to semilingualism (ibid.). (He also mentions
        Chomsky's distinguishing between "linguistic competence"
        and "linguistic performance" - the latter would be close to this
        topic.)

        I came across this in an article critical of the use of the terms and
        claiming that in fact they have no theoretical foundation. The
        article (Jeff MacSwan. 2000. "The Threshold Hypothesis,
        Semilingualism, and Other Contributions to a Deficit View of
        Linguistic Minorities." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Vol.
        22 No. 1, February 2000 3-45). The article is motivated by a concern
        that such labelling can be negative for language minority students.
        As such this is a point of view I had not thought of when I brought
        this subject up.

        From personal observation and discussion with others in Africa, I
        think that it is empirically demonstrable that there are individuals
        who have not had the benefit of (much) education in any of the
        languages they speak, and in fact have a limited though functional
        command of the languages (including what might be called a basic
        fluency in their maternal language - thinking here of the observation
        of Hausaphone rural people in Niger who in taking adult literacy
        classes were learning new terms in Hausa for aspects of their own
        livelihoods). This of course is not due to any lack of intelligence
        or will to learn, but to poor educational opportunities and
        communications.

        Moreover, limited language skills arguably are part of language loss
        in the case where the number of speakers is relatively low or their
        isolation from each other reduces chances for use of the language.

        Beyond that, there is the interesting hypothesis that limited
        language skills equal limitations on ability to communicate and in
        turn social and psychological problems.

        All of this may seem to reach too far, but I think that the
        connections between different phenomena apparently associated with
        limited language training (phenomena studied by more or less separate
        disciplines) merit attention in understanding what the outcomes of
        language/education policies and sociolinguistic change are in human
        terms.

        Re theoretical constructs for "semilingualism" or "limited/impaired
        bilingualism," MacSwan claims that Cummins' "Threshold Hypothesis"
        does not hold. Are there others? I'd be interested in any comments
        on this from anyone familiar with this debate.

        Thanks in advance.

        Don Osborn
        Bisharat.net
      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.