HomeCover Stories21st Century Learning Begins with a Second Language

21st Century Learning Begins with a Second Language

African American news from Pasadena - News - African American students and second language programsWhen I was in middle school in Baltimore, Maryland I had my first opportunity to learn a second language. I decided I wanted to study French. My father said that Spanish would be a better choice, but since he had studied German in the same school system, he let me do as I wanted to do. I loved studying French! I had two years of it in middle school and three years in high school. I read French better than I speak it. I find my French comes back to me when I am very relaxed (seldom), or if I am pressured to remember.

In college, as a senior, I took a great Spanish class in the summer. It was a bit difficult because I tended to merge my romance languages, but the teacher was good and energetic and we worked through. "Not with the French!" When the fall semester began, I eagerly attended my Spanish classes with a different teacher who was not interesting or engaging. I suppose that is why there was room in his class for a late registration. I was a last semester senior. I had added an 8:00 a.m. class because I had decided to return to California when I graduated and thought it might be useful to speak Spanish.

My resolve weakened with poor instruction and I was not going to let my grade point average, suffer or get up early, every day for a class I found deadly dull. I dropped the class. As a result, my Spanish is at the preschool level which worked ok for an early childhood educator. I could communicate with young children and manage a bit with their parents. At this point in my career, my lack of fluency in another language has not been a barrier. However, it would be today.

The Pasadena Unified School district offers Dual Language Immersion programs in Mandarin and Spanish. There are 86 African American students enrolled in these programs. Mandarin 32, Spanish at Jackson 15, and Spanish at San Rafael 39. There should be twice as many African American students in each program.

Dual Language Immersion programs are a draw for middle class parents. The world is a smaller place and parents understand that their children will have a career advantage in the world if they are multilingual. It is increasingly necessary to be multilingual for any kind of position with the county or the city that requires public service. It is necessary to be able to communicate with whoever comes to the window seeking assistance. We may not be able to teach our children a second language at home, but African American parents should definitely be taking advantage of foreign language instruction offered though the school district. The earlier children begin learning a foreign language the better. Children are in a critical period for language acquisition that last until they are 10. This is one reason why high school language instruction often does not last. It is begun long after this critical period has ended.

Our Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Brian McDonald began studying Spanish at his mother's insistence when he was 8 When he was in high school he was ready to give it up. He wanted to spend his time on other courses, and figured he knew enough Spanish. His mother, Olga McDonald, would not allow him to drop Spanish. She insisted that he become bilingual and he is. Today he has a doctorate in Education and is the Chief Academic Officer for the Pasadena Unified School District. One day he will be a superintendent or maybe even a Secretary of Education. Dr. McDonald is a knowledgeable and thoughtful educator. I believe his linguistic skills have made it possible for his career to advance in the manner that it has. His mother had a vision that he did not, as a child. He has told me on more than one occasion that his mother made it quite clear that NOT learning Spanish was not an option for him. " It was easier to do what she wanted." Now that's a Mom !

I am asked many questions by African American parents, in relation to the school district. I am seldom asked about foreign language instruction or how their child can get more of it. I am usually the one who brings this subject up. I mention my travels, and how it is the norm in the world to speak more than one language. I share and anecdote about a gentleman I met in Rwanda, who saw me as an educated woman and just could not accept that I did not speak a foreign language. Educated people speak a second or third language. He insisted on communicating in French and told me not to ever say that I only spoke one language.

You want your child prepared for the future? Insist that our school district offers them high quality foreign language instruction. Insist that your children or grandchildren stick with the language they select. Tell them you expect to see a bilingual seal on their diploma when they graduate.



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