Throughout our history, enthusiasm for the new land and its new ways has been the driving force in assimilating every one of the many immigrant groups that were once aliens and are now Americans. So it should come as no surprise that the current generation of newcomers is as well supplied with it as those of the past.
Indeed, the overwhelming majority of immigrant children in America prefer English to their native tongues, says a new study that is bound to have an impact on the old argument about bilingual education.
The finding tends to confirm that bilingual education should move pupils from their native language into English as soon as possible. The Denver Post agrees, and that is the direction that Denver Public Schools has been going since it revised its bilingual programs last year.
Evidence of immigrant children’s strong preference for English has emerged from the largest study of newly arrived families ever undertaken, a project that queried 5,200 children in Southern California and Florida, tracking them from 1992 to 1996. Along with the findings on language, the survey also discovered that children who are new to America would rather live here than anywhere else.
Further, the study suggests that because these children prefer the language of their new land to that of their parents’ homeland, they aren’t likely to merge into a minority underclass with others with limited English proficiency, but instead will push into the mainstream as soon as they can learn to communicate.
Historically, first-generation immigrants have spoken mostly their native tongue; their children both that and English; and their grandchildren mostly English, plus only a small amount of the original tongue.
These findings take on additional urgency because immigrant children entering bilingual programs usually cannot read or write any language – their own or English. In view of that dual handicap, common sense urges placing emphasis on the language that will be most immediately helpful in building the child’s capabilities and confidence.
Reforms in the Denver bilingual program, which deals largely with Hispanic children, are designed around that principle, but the changes have drawn opposition from critics who say this program unfairly deflects emphasis from these students’ Hispanic roots, and the controversy continues.
Most educators agree that all students, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, do their best work in those subjects that interest them most. Now we have evidence that among immigrant students, the language they most want to be taught is English. Let us do that.