It’s easy to forget that the United States has no official language. Practically everything we read or hear is in English, to the point where it becomes the status quo for all interactions in our lives. For a country as diverse as ours, it’s easy to imagine how this monolingual tilt can make the lives of many confusing and difficult on any given day. There is no right or wrong answer on whose responsibility it is to alleviate this issue, but there certainly is a responsibility to ensure that all students receive an equal education in the language regardless of their level.
It is a basic fact that English Language Learners (ELL) are a very diverse group of people. It is certainly possible that they may fit stereotypes of what being an ELL means, but they are more than likely to be something completely different. Just as you and I are completely different people, the same reasoning behind that conclusion applies to ELL. The only reason why they are labeled as ELL are because they are just that. People who are currently in the process of learning English. Just as much as we provide a sound education in English to any other student, we should provide them the same resources as we do any other. They may receive different lessons than you do, but they receive the same education as you do or once did.
Speaking from experience, learning a language that you don’t use at home is difficult. I remember how I would be able to understand everything in Koreatown, only to lose myself in a world of gibberish anywhere outside. I found my own way towards learning the language, but that took teaching directed towards kids like me. Being fortunate enough to have a TV, I had access to a wide variety of Saturday morning cartoons that allowed me to approach the language at a pace I could handle. As a living example of the success that individual-oriented language learning can accomplish, believe it when I say that this works for anybody learning a secondary language. By dipping my toes into the waters, I eventually was able to overcome the waves of comprehension to be here now to write this article.
In 1974 the Supreme Court decided unanimously on Lau v Nichols that the lack of ESL education was in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet as the number of ELL grow, it is time for a national conversation on how we are properly fulfilling the civil rights established not only by the legislative body, but also the highest court in the country.
Coming from Los Angeles, the school district with the most ELL in the country, it is my opinion that whatever funding allocated is simply not enough. Even without statistics or quotes, I can tell that there is an issue by the fact that throughout my entire schooling experience I can count the number of teachers who taught ELL on one hand. That makes no sense when out of the national student population, nearly 10% are comprised of ELL.
In fact, for that 10% less than 1% of teachers are actually qualified to teach them English as a Secondary Language. Those numbers aren’t getting better as the years go by, and it’s scary to consider what it means going forward.
ELL teachers play an important role far beyond just the classroom. They are the bridge between the student and a country in which they will be expected to provide for themselves using the lessons provided by the teacher. For that very reason, more so than any other group at school, their success lies with their understanding of the English language. Although we may take it for granted, the proficiency of our English literacy has been shown to correlate on an international level with salaries and standards of living. Considering the impact it has on a world that has ⅕ of its population as English speakers, imagine its impact on a national level where 80% of the country speaks English.
My father was one of many ELL students who found a way to success by means of his linguistic ability. Although coming up from the “bad side” of town, he found his way out by finding the advantage of being an ELL student. In a growing globalized world, the ability to speak two languages has become ever so attractive to employers looking to expand their growth. Working in trade going in and out of the U.S, my father proves not only the benefit of teaching ELL to better their lives, but also that it is a good investment for the country.
ELL have the power to be the crucial workforce we need to move the country in the direction of the future. Much like how we expect others to learn English to do business with us, the rest of the world can rightfully expect the same for their own language. The amount of economic activity that could be brought to the United States from foreign businesses have the power to bring more jobs and revenue, but it all begins with a connection to the country. With an incoming generation of bilingual employees ready to be that very connection, the actions that we take become much more dual-natured.
We have an obligation to provide ELL an education that they are entitled to, but not to do so would also entail the loss of potential earnings that reach far beyond billions.
At the end of the day, it is up to us to tell our government to change the way our country is heading. Typically we might expect those at risk to advocate for themselves, but this group cannot. ELL should not only have the right to learn exactly how, but to ensure their future stake in this country that they have called home. Regardless of the costs involved, we are simply upholding the rights guaranteed to these students. Students who regardless of their origins, are people just like you and me trying to learn. Change only comes with action, and as such it is time that we begin lobbying for further ELL support from our local governments to our national government.