Monday, August 2, 2010

Appreciation for those learning Languages

Oh, these Moroccan days…
As part of the Fulbright Fellowship we were expected to take Arabic classes, which totaled to 40 hours of instruction in ten days. At first most of my fellow Fulbrighters struggled with trying to properly pronounce all 28 letters of the alphabet. As time progressed, learning Arabic came naturally to some or perhaps it was also due to people’s studious nature of completing daily homework assignments, in either case, I was not one of the aforementioned. Instead, I struggled to learn the independent, initial, medial, and final position of each letter. On the days where I did do the homework, I still found myself catching up with the rest of the group. I began feeling disappointed with myself at those moments in class because everyone else seemed to be able to decipher the language. I could not help but think, while sitting in a classroom at the Universite Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, in Fes, about the English Language Learners (ELL) I teach.

I teach at Theodore Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles. Roosevelt has 4,100 students and two years ago was one of the most populated high schools in the nation at 5,100 students. My school has a large immigrant population predominantly from Mexico and a few Central American countries. I have taught bilingual world history in the past and continue to have ELL students in my classroom. Sitting in the classroom in Fes learning a new language reminded me of the experience my students must be going through. For many immigrants, at the high school level, coming to the U.S. is not a choice it is a necessity. I have had numerous students tell me at first they did not want to come to this country but were forced by their parents who came looking for a better life for them. To think of the many obstacles they face in their lives, adapting to a new culture, being a teenager, and learning a new language, I developed a deeper respect for my students. Often, I feel teachers tend to forget the personal struggles students have to deal with outside the classroom especially when classrooms are 30 students or more and the attention/pressure is to cover all academic standards in preparation for high-stake state tests. Sometimes teachers forget they are teaching human beings with emotional concerns outside academia. It is refreshing to be a student in Morocco learning Arabic because it puts things into perspective. This experience has made me cognizant of the fact that I need to do a better job differentiating my instructions for ELL learners and affirming their journeys in mastering the English language.

Also I noticed being a student of Arabic, how at the very least, almost everyone in Morocco is bilingual and speaking three or four languages is common. The state of California or the United States, for that matter, is behind the rest of the world when it comes to teaching languages in the public school system. Students are expected to take two or three years of a foreign language in high schools throughout California, which in reality is a travesty when compared to the amount of years other countries expect their youth to learn a foreign language. In the U.S., we need to move away from the xenophobic monolingual movement. In Fes, a local Professor responded to a question on the U.S.’ movement to eradicate bilingualism in the public education system with, “Why would you deprive a society of its many cultures?” Instead of seeing people who speak other languages negatively we should learn to appreciate our differences as part of the beautiful diversity that makes the U.S. unique. To see my fellow Fulbrigthers in Morocco appreciate a society where everyone speaks more than one language was a comforting feeling and I truly feel the vast majority of American society is due for a strong dosage of how global societies should be, multilingual. On returning to the States, I do plan to continue learning either Arabic or another language because I admire multi-linguists.              

“The Garden”- by Cut Chemist

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