My family and I came from Cuba in 1962. We spoke no English. We spent the first two months surrounded by others who spoke no English. In August 1962,
we moved to a small town in southeast Florida to live by those who spoke no Spanish.
How did my father communicate with his employers and co-workers? How did my mother buy groceries? How did I make friends and achieve success at school?
I will tell you how we did it:
We used our survival skills and changed our ways to adapt to a new culture.
We understood that, in order to survive and to succeed, we had to immerse ourselves in and embrace our situation. We watched English-language television and movies; we listened to English-language radio; we associated with our English-speaking co-workers, neighbors and classmates; and we read English-language newspapers and periodicals. We did not expect it to be easy, and we did not expect employers, schools or governmental agencies to make accommodations because of our deficient language skills.
Would bilingual education have facilitated my transition from speaking Spanish to speaking English?
My answer is a resounding no!
The theory behind bilingual education is that you must first become literate in your native tongue before you can learn another language. As in many areas, theory and practice are two entirely different things.
Think of it this way: How did you learn to speak your native language? Did your parents speak to you in “baby talk” for an indefinite period of time until you became fluent enough in “baby talk” to be taught the English translations? Of course not. We understand, almost instinctively, that in order for children to learn to speak, they must be spoken to in the language that they must use to become successful adults. The obvious conclusion is that the same holds true for learning another language.
Bilingual education is a failure because, like so many liberal educational programs designed to generate “warm fuzzies,” it is neither logical nor based on reality.