When I came to this country, I started first grade in Bell and the class was divided into two groups, Spanish and English. I was placed with the Spanish speakers. I had no trouble learning any of the subjects. In fact, I found it easier since it was in my language. Six months after that I moved to L.A.
The school I went to was Ninth Street Elementary and the system was similar, only this time the whole class were Spanish speakers. Some of the students knew how to speak English and others didn’t know it at all, but all of them knew Spanish.
So the teacher would instruct us in Spanish and would speak to us in English sometimes. That’s when I first started learning a few words in English, but most of the instruction the teacher made was in Spanish.
My second-grade teacher knew that my English was pretty limited. He spoke Spanish to me but he also encouraged me to learn how to speak English and he made the effort to make me learn English.
The transition began in the third grade, when we had to communicate with the teacher in English as part of the class. I found it hard at first because most of the communicating I did at home and at school was in Spanish. After third grade all of my instruction was in English. By then I was more adapted to speaking only English; but sometimes we spoke Spanish in class.
The classes from fourth grade on were English only and I found that a little hard to adapt to, although by fifth or sixth grade I was more or less adapted to both languages .
Most of the kids went through the transition pretty well but there were a few who up to graduation from the sixth grade understood English but couldn’t speak it or write it very well. And I think that has to do with their parents at home–I mean maybe their parents didn’t encourage them. So it seemed to me that either they didn’t learn it as well or they chose not to speak it.
My parents were very supportive. I know some parents, and I think this is absurd, who don’t encourage their kids to learn English, but my parents were pretty supportive. They didn’t mind the fact that we were instructed in both Spanish and English. Although we did homework in English, we still spoke Spanish at home and most of the communication was in Spanish. I think if parents aren’t willing to support their kids, the school is limited in what it can do. If parents decide to say to their kids that they’re not to learn another language, I don’t think there’s very much the school can do to make the kids fluent in English .
Did bilingual education slow my academic development? Not at all. It actually helped in that I could communicate easily with other people who aren’t very fluent in English.
I’ve been accepted to the University of California at Berkeley with a Regents’ scholarship and I plan to major in astrophysics. It looks like I’ll be going there for the next four years.
I don’t think this bilingual program should be eliminated. Historically, the U.S. is made of immigrant people who are from different cultures and who speak different languages. I think eliminating all those languages would not only damage those cultures, but it would also hinder people’s ability to carry out business with foreign nations.
ROBERTO MEDINA, 17, senior, Jefferson High School, Los Angeles