Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

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thomas_dc
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Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby thomas_dc » Sun Mar 12, 2017 5:49 pm

I've recently been thinking about this topic, because it pops up now and again in the media. In my country (Denmark) schools used to be obliged by law to offer the children of foreign parents to receive some kind of classes in their mother language. (Edit: these were supplementary classes, while the rest of the school curriculum were in Danish). Today such classes are only offered to the children of EU citizens (!). The idea was that a better grasp of the language of their original country would help them succeed better in general, helping them use their mother tongue as some kind of foundation and point of reference. It's hard to gather significant scientific evidence for this kind of thing, though, because there hasn't been a control group, and because a lot of other factors may come into play when looking at the successes and failures of immigrant children.
I think, however that it makes sense to try and cultivate any kind of competence that may be innate in with a given student. If someone has a talent for playing music, this talent should be encouraged, if the child is good at math, that, too is something that the educational system tries to push further.. But polyglottery doesn't seem to be considered the same way today - I wonder why? If a child speaks Tamil in his family for example, the educational system ought to seize the opportunity and make sure that he or she also learns to read and write in that language and that the student will be able to build solid foundations in the mother tongue. Often, though, it seems that these language competences that the kids get "for free" are seen as less important. Sometimes they're even discouraged, and the child is expected to only speak the language of the host-country to better "integrate". Normally, polyglottery is something that is respected and admired, but why, in this case is it ignored (or even looked down upon?)
The argument of the Danish government to stop offering these kind of classes were money. They felt that the money was better spent on teaching the children Danish. I can't help but think that this is a very short sighted decision. If it's a question of money, I think that we'll miss out in the long run.

There are several arguments for mother tongue education, like better overall academic success, better communication with the family (who will be able to help the child with his homework, as well as debate some of the subject that might arise when moving to a new country, like discrimination, culture differences, etc) and better self esteem and a sense of identity (rather that being the "immigrant" in the new country and the "emigrant" in the country of origin)

Since this forum deals with language learning, I'd like to hear people's opinions of this subject which might deal with language from a slightly different perspective. How is this kind of thing done in your country? Do you have any experiences?
I've written a little more in detail in a blog post here: mother language education

I hope to hear some of your thoughts!
Last edited by thomas_dc on Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby Xmmm » Sun Mar 12, 2017 6:35 pm

Bilingual education in the US is widely considered to have been a disaster, leading to a generation of "non-nons" (adults illiterate in both English in Spanish).

Being tracked into the Spanish classes also puts a big scarlet letter on you ("This kid has difficulty with English. He will never take honors math, chemistry, physics, English. He won't go to college. If it makes trouble, what do you expect he must be a bad kid.")

With full immersion, you start off behind but you catch up. By the time you graduate high school, nobody even knows you aren't a native speaker, because the government basically paid for you to receive AJATT in English for 12 years.

My grandmother's parents came from Norway right before she was born and Norwegian was spoken in the household her whole childhood. Her whole life, she spoke Norwegian to her sisters and scolded her kids in Norwegian. And yet somehow, she was native-level fluent in English. Why? No special classes for Norwegian speakers in the 1920s.


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https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... on/305426/

edited once to add link in support of my argument
Last edited by Xmmm on Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby thomas_dc » Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:00 pm

Xmmm wrote:Bilingual education in the US is widely considered to have been a disaster, leading to a generation of "non-nons" (adults illiterate in both English in Spanish).

Being tracked into the Spanish classes also puts a big scarlet letter on you ("This kid has difficulty with English. He will never take honors math, chemistry, physics, English. He won't go to college. If it makes trouble, what do you expect he must be a bad kid.")

With full immersion, you start off behind but you catch up. By the time you graduate high school, nobody even knows you aren't a native speaker, because the government basically paid for you to receive AJATT in English for 12 years.

My grandmother's parents came from Norway right before she was born and Norwegian was spoken in the household her whole childhood. Her whole life, she spoke Norwegian to her sisters and scolded her kids in Norwegian. And yet somehow, she was native-level fluent in English. Why? No special classes for Norwegian speakers in the 1920s.


When this was done in Denmark, it was still "full immersion" - the children weren't put in a special foreign-language class, but rather received supplementary courses in their mother tongue (in the same way that they'd have English and German class)
I'm unfamiliar with the US system for Spanish speakers, but it sounds horrible to be branded in that way. I think that doing well in school happens when there's a mix of joint efforts from the teacher, the student and the parents, and that for some parents a very alien language and school system might make it harder on their part. (This obviously doesn't make anything impossible - it's only an obstacle).
There also might be a big difference between high and low resource families. It's an interesting example with your grandmother's parents. I think that the USA (and similar countries) might be special because of that whole narrative of "the American dream" - A lot of people have migrated to the US because they believed strongly in that idea and were motivated to take part in it, whereas others might have other reasons. I think that perhaps a focus on the mother language is mostly relevant for families who are forced to move to another country rather that coming "optimistically seeking new horizons". They might face other obstacles - like identity and emotional resources and in these cases I'd imagine that mother tongue education could make a difference. What's a little ironic is that some communes in Denmark still offer mother tongue classes - but only to children of EU citizens. (because of EU law, I think) - and that the children of EU citizens might need this kind of help much less than children with origins from the rest of the (non-western) world.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby zenmonkey » Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:31 pm

I'm not sure that the school has the obligate role of educating in a variety of mother tongues (classes in 100+ languages seem massively impractical). As the immigrant son of an immigrant son with immigrant children, my generational experiences have been that ancestor languages remain part of the family responsibility and not part of a social contract with the new country.

Personally, I kept my Spanish because my parents pushed me to do so. But along the way, I never learned all of my grandparent languages - Polish and Yiddish and Zapotec because they were part of the either the private sphere or "questionable". For my children, as we migrated - English/Spanish became secondary goals to French and German as the local languages - obviously we worked on keeping an environment that nurtured multilingualism but it took close second place to fluency in the local languages. Today, my daughters have a weak fluency in Spanish (their fourth tongue, my first) and often complain that I didn't focus enough effort on teaching them that. And while there is some truth to it - it would not have been the role of the school to teach that beyond the normal 3rd language program (France or Germany have obligate 3rd language programs).

Schools should teach languages, clearly. But mandating full education in immigrant languages maybe a barrier to integration and future opportunity - I would prefer to see programs where 2nd, 3rd and 4th languages are possible as complement to a core education in the local language. My kids studied French, German, English, Latin and Spanish in mostly a public system with home complements of Italian and a few other fanciful ideas - I can't complain about the choices or results even if I may be highly critical about some of the methods.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby zenmonkey » Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:38 pm

thomas_dc wrote:
Xmmm wrote:Bilingual education in the US is widely considered to have been a disaster, leading to a generation of "non-nons" (adults illiterate in both English in Spanish).

Being tracked into the Spanish classes also puts a big scarlet letter on you ("This kid has difficulty with English. He will never take honors math, chemistry, physics, English. He won't go to college. If it makes trouble, what do you expect he must be a bad kid.")

With full immersion, you start off behind but you catch up. By the time you graduate high school, nobody even knows you aren't a native speaker, because the government basically paid for you to receive AJATT in English for 12 years.

My grandmother's parents came from Norway right before she was born and Norwegian was spoken in the household her whole childhood. Her whole life, she spoke Norwegian to her sisters and scolded her kids in Norwegian. And yet somehow, she was native-level fluent in English. Why? No special classes for Norwegian speakers in the 1920s.


When this was done in Denmark, it was still "full immersion" - the children weren't put in a special foreign-language class, but rather received supplementary courses in their mother tongue (in the same way that they'd have English and German class)


Current programs in the US (and the same ones I took) have these types of 'supplemental' or 'remedial' classes as well as ESL classes - additional classes to teach English.

I'm not 100% sure I buy into the non-non argument as fully due to bilingual programs - I know many people that succeeded in these. Furthermore, I think part of the economic, familial and social environments have an undervalued impact on why Juanito can't read.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby thomas_dc » Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:58 pm

zenmonkey wrote:
thomas_dc wrote:
Xmmm wrote:Bilingual education in the US is widely considered to have been a disaster, leading to a generation of "non-nons" (adults illiterate in both English in Spanish).

Being tracked into the Spanish classes also puts a big scarlet letter on you ("This kid has difficulty with English. He will never take honors math, chemistry, physics, English. He won't go to college. If it makes trouble, what do you expect he must be a bad kid.")

With full immersion, you start off behind but you catch up. By the time you graduate high school, nobody even knows you aren't a native speaker, because the government basically paid for you to receive AJATT in English for 12 years.

My grandmother's parents came from Norway right before she was born and Norwegian was spoken in the household her whole childhood. Her whole life, she spoke Norwegian to her sisters and scolded her kids in Norwegian. And yet somehow, she was native-level fluent in English. Why? No special classes for Norwegian speakers in the 1920s.


When this was done in Denmark, it was still "full immersion" - the children weren't put in a special foreign-language class, but rather received supplementary courses in their mother tongue (in the same way that they'd have English and German class)


Current programs in the US (and the same ones I took) have these types of 'supplemental' or 'remedial' classes as well as ESL classes - additional classes to teach English.

I'm not 100% sure I buy into the non-non argument as fully due to bilingual programs - I know many people that succeeded in these. Furthermore, I think part of the economic, familial and social environments have an undervalued impact on why Juanito can't read.


It does seem like children from these difficult economic, familial and social backgrounds do much poorer even in bilingual programs that children of families that are more resourceful do, even without the school effort. (sort of what you describe for your own family?)

What does the term "Non-non" refer to? Neither English nor Spanish?
I can't really see how supplementary classes can be the reason for this problem in literacy in both languages. If anything, it ought to help. The branding and stigma of being put in such classes seems like a problem that can be overcome by looking at the way they're carried out. I'd consider them more as extra opportunities rather than a kind of punishment, and the way they're presented to the parents and the children might influence how they're perceived.

I understand when you say that this kind of courses isn't something that the school should be obliged to provide. It makes sense for these kind of things to be the responsibility of the family, but again, this is something that would be mostly doable for resourceful families, and not so much the families who really need something extra. If mother tongue education can be proved to help immigrant children (and I think it would be hard to prove this) wouldn't it be worth the cost and effort to have such classes?
You mention that it would be unpractical for the school to provide classes for 100+ classes. I'm no expert, but the way that I think that this was done in Denmark, was that language classes were offered, if the parents could gather enough children to establish a class. Say 10-15 children. Then it would be upon the school to find a teacher and execute, but there would have to be some kind of reasonable basis of course.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby Finny » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:04 pm

I'm a bilingual preschool teacher in the US. The idea behind the program is that if kids are enrolled until exit in 8th grade, they'll be proficient in both languages. As a result, we're the base with 90/10 Spanish/English.

The biggest issue I have (besides all the administration and assessments) is the fact that I have several kids who come in with strong English and weak Spanish, and it's almost always because the parents are speaking English at home with the kids and barely any Spanish. These kids aren't going to get stronger Spanish skills in the future because each higher grade has more English and less Spanish, and being in an English-dominant country, it's not the language that needs protecting, but it's next to impossible to explain this to parents who are already communicating with their kids primarily in English that the bilingual program isn't going to teach their kids Spanish.

We do have a dual language program, but it's limited to one school and most of my parents want to get their kids into it, which isn't possible for a variety of reasons, and the parents end up thinking their kids aren't going to learn Spanish unless they go to that school, which isn't true either. If kids primarily interact in Spanish at home, they're going to keep it and learn English in the bilingual program, as well as literary skills in Spanish. But the kids in the bilingual program who only have English directed to them at home and aren't expected to speak in Spanish will have passive aural bilingualism at best, and perhaps not even that.

With our kids, our goal is trilingualism, so I speak and read to the kids exclusively in Spanish and French; I used to read in English too, but eventually realized my daughter was bringing me far more En books than Es (this was before I added Fr) simply because she spoke En all day long with Mom, so I put a stop to that. The next hurdle was when I realized that she was directing 90% of her speech to me in En, even though I'd only spoken to her in Es since birth and even though she understood all of it. I stopped that by requiring her to start repeating modeled sentences in Es, and in a few months she switched to directing 90% of speech to me in Es.

I then got greedy and added Fr last year shortly after I started learning it in earnest. We're at the point now where both kids understand pretty much everything in all 3 languages and can speak each to varying degrees. My 1.5 year old speaks all 3 without issue, as much as a toddler can be expected to, although I think his active vocab is largest in En and I think he prefers Es to Fr. My 3-year old speaks En and Es without issue although she makes a few persistent overgeneralization errors (e.g., yo dijo instead of yo dije) and forgets words from time to time in Es. Her Fr is good enough that her errors are starting to stand out to me (e.g., she mixes up whether to use avoir or etre in many situations, or she primarily says j'ai a instead of j'ai due to hearing tu as).

As a result, we've got trilingual kids. Whoo! But it requires a lot of focus, especially since I'm the primary source of two of the 3 languages. And I constantly have a wolf-at-the-door feeling regarding En, because we're in an English-speaking country and there isn't any practical need for either Es or Fr in their lives. My daughter tests me nearly every day by directing a sentence to me in En; I don't respond, but it's a potent reminder of how easy it would be to just slip into an En environment, which so many parents with bilingual intentions in this country ultimately do.

I remember reading in one of the books I skimmed while getting my degree that multilingualism was respected when done voluntarily and disdained when acquired from home; I'd agree with that, at least in the context of monolingual societies.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby zenmonkey » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:28 pm

thomas_dc wrote:
zenmonkey wrote:
thomas_dc wrote:
Xmmm wrote:Bilingual education in the US is widely considered to have been a disaster, leading to a generation of "non-nons" (adults illiterate in both English in Spanish).

Being tracked into the Spanish classes also puts a big scarlet letter on you ("This kid has difficulty with English. He will never take honors math, chemistry, physics, English. He won't go to college. If it makes trouble, what do you expect he must be a bad kid.")

With full immersion, you start off behind but you catch up. By the time you graduate high school, nobody even knows you aren't a native speaker, because the government basically paid for you to receive AJATT in English for 12 years.

My grandmother's parents came from Norway right before she was born and Norwegian was spoken in the household her whole childhood. Her whole life, she spoke Norwegian to her sisters and scolded her kids in Norwegian. And yet somehow, she was native-level fluent in English. Why? No special classes for Norwegian speakers in the 1920s.


When this was done in Denmark, it was still "full immersion" - the children weren't put in a special foreign-language class, but rather received supplementary courses in their mother tongue (in the same way that they'd have English and German class)


Current programs in the US (and the same ones I took) have these types of 'supplemental' or 'remedial' classes as well as ESL classes - additional classes to teach English.

I'm not 100% sure I buy into the non-non argument as fully due to bilingual programs - I know many people that succeeded in these. Furthermore, I think part of the economic, familial and social environments have an undervalued impact on why Juanito can't read.


It does seem like children from these difficult economic, familial and social backgrounds do much poorer even in bilingual programs that children of families that are more resourceful do, even without the school effort. (sort of what you describe for your own family?)

What does the term "Non-non" refer to? Neither English nor Spanish?
I can't really see how supplementary classes can be the reason for this problem in literacy in both languages. If anything, it ought to help. The branding and stigma of being put in such classes seems like a problem that can be overcome by looking at the way they're carried out. I'd consider them more as extra opportunities rather than a kind of punishment, and the way they're presented to the parents and the children might influence how they're perceived.

I understand when you say that this kind of courses isn't something that the school should be obliged to provide. It makes sense for these kind of things to be the responsibility of the family, but again, this is something that would be mostly doable for resourceful families, and not so much the families who really need something extra. If mother tongue education can be proved to help immigrant children (and I think it would be hard to prove this) wouldn't it be worth the cost and effort to have such classes?
You mention that it would be unpractical for the school to provide classes for 100+ classes. I'm no expert, but the way that I think that this was done in Denmark, was that language classes were offered, if the parents could gather enough children to establish a class. Say 10-15 children. Then it would be upon the school to find a teacher and execute, but there would have to be some kind of reasonable basis of course.


(Lovely post, Finny, above this one.)

The non-non thing was mentioned by Xmmm and basically pointed out that some kids came out non-fluent in either language (or illiterate according to that post), according to Xmmm. (I have some doubts...)

I think it is important to consider that along with the educational elements you point out - there are concerns about the politics of immigrant languages - often parents see their home language with some trepidation or actually focus children to only learn the new culture language. In these cases, like Finny posted, the home language is not going to be learned further in classes where the effort for the bilingual learning is small.

The reason that I would question establishing these bilingual classes as a standard (if 10-15 students arrive) is that these decisions shouldn't be made in some haphazard way. What happens the following year, how does this language training integrate with the acquisition of core knowledge? Having my child take two years of science in English (in a French school) than proving a one year class in, say, Hmong Daw for a transient group. I imagine that there is actually a some planning and subject and continuity requirements that go beyond "we have enough students to fill a class this year, find us a teacher."
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby luke » Sun Mar 12, 2017 10:13 pm

Eduko de plurlingva infano is a parent's experience raising her child in a multilingual environment. They live in the Netherlands. Mom only spoke her native language to the child (Hungarian). Dad spoke his native language (French) to the boy in the home. Mom and Dad spoke to each other in their best common language (Esperanto). In school, their son learned Dutch. He became quadrilingual.
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Re: Mother tongue education for children of immigrants

Postby Ani » Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:12 am

I think you are asking two different questions. Would this benefit immigrant children? And should (tax payer) money be spent on this? My answer to the first is "probably". Having professional proficiency in two languages is usually better than one and many immigrant children would not have the opportunity to learn to read and write in their native/parent's language without additional help. On the other hand, if the parents have stopped speaking the language at home the classes are possibly useless. If the child isn't interested, it is probably useless.
I think it is ridiculous to think public money should be spent on tutoring ANY language a child may come into the school system with. That could look like 8-12 years of private tutoring for a whole host of children. I would guess the marginal increase in benefit for the child would not match the cost. If we recognize our money is finite, we should also note that this plan doesn't help non immigrant children with language that might benefit them.
We all love languages here. Supporting the mother tongue for immigrants is great, but if we are talking about getting the best outcomes for public dollars, I doubt this is the way.
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