English is Important

To the Editor:

I have never written to the Times before, but I feel my duty as an American citizen to contribute to the ongoing debate on bilingual education in California (“Bilingual Education Facing Toughest Test,” A1, March 10). I came to this country with my family at the age of 8, and learned what Dr. Crawford terms “Academic English” within a year or two. I spent my formative years in East Los Angles (Montebello), where most of my elementary school peers were Mexican-Americans. Needless to say, with few Korean students at my new school, I had both greater opportunity to practice English and the incentive to learn English as quickly as possible, so I could fit in with my new peers. In the process of absorbing English and playing with my new friends, I also picked up the various customs and cultural practices of American society, which would help me adjust and integrate into American society. My hard-working parents never had such opportunities to learn English or American folkways, and to this day their language fluency and social circle remain limited to fellow Koreans. My immigrant peers and I had to learn English to help guide our families in this strange new land. Although I lost much of my homeland language in the process, I had a chance to learn much of it back during and after college, when I studied abroad at Korea.

Basically, I am trying to stress the importance of learning English, and forming diverse social networks, as quickly as possible among immigrant children. The claims of bilingual education advocates that children need 3-5 years, maybe more, to transition to mainstream English-speaking classes sound to me patently wrong. It is fundamentally not right that many Mexican and some Asian students in California are shuffled off to bilingual-ed classes and remain segregated from other students for years. They are missing out on probably the greatest benefit of an American education, which is the opportunity to meet, learn, and live with people different from themselves.

In a deeper sense, I agree that the debate over bilingual education stems from what Genethia Hayes (LA Southern Christian Leadership Conference) calls “adult agendas,” or contrasting visions on the desired future of the American nation. Growing up as the only Korean kid in the neighborhood, I naturally got picked on a lot and experienced the injustices of discrimination. But I also experienced genuine friendships, and realized the remarkable affection and ties that can form between diverse ethnic peoples in America. I have learned to love America as my own, and wish to see our country united, whole and strong– “One Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” This is the agenda which I hold true, and which I believe motivates the supporters of “English for the Children” initiative in California.

Sincerely Yours,

Joseph Yi

[The writer is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.]

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