Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Teaching Multilingual Children" by Virginia Collier

As a former ESL student myself, I found the articles for this week very fascinating to read. I was in an ESL classroom during the second half of fourth grade and first half of fifth grade, so I think i have the benefit of first hand experience when it comes to the issues of this topic.
Although I was not a huge fan of "Aria" by Richard Rodriguez, I thought that "Teaching Multilingual Children" by Virginia Collier was a very insightful article.

Many of the statements Collier made I really agree with and have experienced first-hand in my own life:
"Academic skills developed in the first language tend to automatically transfer to the second language".
I actually thought of this same concept even before I read that part in the article ( and when I read it i thought "So true!"). I wondered why some kids learn a second language much faster than others. Although I do think that much depends on personal ability (some people are just better at learning languages than others) I quickly realized that a lot of it tends to do with how rigorous your schooling was in your home country. I am not completely sure anymore because fifth grade was a long time ago, but I think some kids in my class did not even go to school in their home countries. As a result, not only did they not speak English, but they also had no concept of reading, writing, and math. Obviously, with sucha situation, I can see what Collier means when she says that it could take them "from five to seven years to master commonly accepted age-grade norms".

I was rather surprised by this statement however:
"It is worse for many students who are placed in English-only classrooms with teachers who have no training in second language acquisition and who use an English-only curriculum".
Although I am not an expert and certainly do not have research to back me up, it seems to me that being completely immersed in a foreign language is actually beneficial for foreign language learners. My ESL classroom was certainly English-only, since the diversity of the students made it impossible to accommodate to all their languages, and we were even forbidden to speak our native languages to peers. It seems to me that complete immersion into a second language helps the student focus on, and rely on, that language so much more. I think that the danger of bilingual classrooms is that kids will just speak whatever language is most comfortable and ignore the second language if they can get by without it. When you know you cant survive without learning to speak English it really makes a difference in how quickly you learn.

Finally, I thought the six features of "Caregiver speech" were all excellent points. One of my favorites is, "Caregivers provide models to children by saying for them what the children seem to want to say". I like this one cause I think these kids need to be given a break! Sometimes its just hard to think of words, even if you know them, and I think its a good thing for teachers to help them out. Also, its easier to understand than it is to speak, so if I child has problems saying something the teacher should lead them to the right words and model the right words. A child will probably understand, even if they could not have said it themselves, and will hopefully remember what to say next time in a similar situation.

Overall, I thought this article was great. It was easy to read, to the point, and very insightful. I think the "Caregiver" points are an essential for all ESL teachers. In class, I would like to discuss bilingual teaching methods more, since its something I really do not know much about. Although two languages are definitely better than one (I assume this kind of teaching is mostly directed towards Spanish-speaking students), I do see many problems that could come with bilingual teaching.


  1. This is interesting because I am the opposite way. I found Aria more appealing than this.I wonder is you being in an ESL class for awhile made this more appealing for you. Very peculiar.

  2. I agree with you in your 3rd paragraph. I too don't understand how being with a billingual could be better than an English-only. The teacher might be able to help the student easier and make them feel more comfortable, but at the same time it could also lower their motivation to learn English and make them slack off in class because they know they can just speak Spanish or whatever. Who knows.

  3. I liked all your quotes and explanations they helped me understand the text a little better. I also liked how you bought up your own experience being an ESL student because it gave to article a new perspective to me.

  4. I agreed with your response to your second quote especially in a child's point of view. In an English only classroom a child would be immersed in the language and have no choice but to learn, think, and respond in that language. If they were in a classroom that would involve both languages many children would probably still clutch onto the first language and not really focus on learning English. I feel like this was kind of what Rodriguez was trying to say, that by his teachers not talking and greeting him in Spanish he was forced to learn and participate in English a lot sooner than he would have.

  5. These reading must have been really interesting for you to read. I can't imagine what it would be like to go to anohter country and just not be able to have any communication with them.

  6. I agree with your comments about immersion verses bilingual education. It's been proven that immersion is the way to go, because you have to learn to survive (I can't remember where I've read that). My brother was a spanish teacher for a few years, and he went to college for a year in Mexico so he could get the real experience of living and working daily with the spanish language. He said no ammount of classroom interaction can compare with the benefits of immersion. Not only does it force you to learn it to get by, but it also teaches you the less formal interactions, inflections and slang that you only hear on the street or in casual converstaion.
    So, ya, I'm for immersion too.