Both my parents and I have learned languages through total immersion education.
I learned to speak German within one year while living in Germany, then taught in the German school system for two years before returning to this country. I just finished teaching in a parochial elementary school where English-only education has been a very successful approach to learning the language.
There are two reasons for the success that parochial schools have experienced with English-only or the total immersion approach to learning language.
One reason is that these schools have provided support through a disciplined sense of personal responsibility required of not only students but also parents.
The other reason is that these private schools do their best to see to it that no student just “slips through the cracks” in the system. Teachers employ tried and tested methods and also take personal responsibility for their students’ learning. They ensure that students develop a sense of belonging to their community.
The way personal responsibility is taught is different than the public school system’s approach. Morality and civil obedience are taught. The students are taught that they have a personal responsibility to respect others and do their best. When a student refuses to follow directions or disrupts the learning environment, that student is not ignored or suspended so that he can then have the opportunity to go home and do whatever he feels like. That student is given personal consequences for his or her behavior.
The students are also shown loving patience in learning a new language, mixed with high expectations from both teachers and parents.
The parochial schools require parental involvement for their children’s success in school. This is the difference between a successful student and an unsuccessful one–not the demographics of the community, not the basic intelligence of the child, not just the teaching ability of the teacher or the school environment.
If the parents take responsibility for their children’s success by providing opportunities for learning personal responsibility, and if they also support this English-only approach, these children will learn.
The most important way for the parents to support the English-only approach is through enrolling their children in the program at an early age. The best time is preschool, which is when the parochial schools begin the English-only program.
Public schools need to extend the total immersion approach to learning a second language to preschools if they expect the best results from the English-only requirement. If funds are not available, the Parent Teachers Assn. could help provide money and volunteer aides. A qualified preschool teacher with a certificate in teaching English as a second language would be necessary for the program to be successful.
Bilingual educators would have the public believe that this English-only approach will be a disaster. I contend that this approach has already been successful in parochial schools through teachers, administrative and parental support.
Bilingual educators also say teachers in California are not adequately prepared to teach the English-only method. This is far from the truth. Teaching credential requirements have changed drastically to include certificates in teaching English as a second language. All new teachers and all teachers renewing their teaching certificates now have this education. They need only workshops to help them implement the program.
With the support of administrators and parents, this plan can work and has worked. The time is right for the switch to English only.
C.A. Delgado is a writer and elementary school teacher who, lives in Moorpark