Friday, May 18, 2007

Arabic immersion?

Why don't we try to get all of our kids to learn to speak and read proper English first?

The Windsor Public School Board has decided to offer Arabic 'immersion' classes. From the tone of the article, this doesn't sound like the taxpayer funded 'Heritage Languages' program here in Toronto, where the TDSB pays for Cantonese, Farsi or other foreign language classes, usually on Saturdays. This sounds like the Board intends to offer regular school day education, in Arabic.

Nice precedent, don't you think?

Surely it makes more sense to fund more programs and include more participants in classes that would facilitate the learning of one of our two OFFICIAL languages.

Apparently the experts don't think so. They say that kids 'literate in their first language are more adept at acquiring English or French.' and that 'if children of immigrants do not feel alienated from their family's language and culture, they adapt most readily to Canadian culture and values.'

Really? I would have thought being immersed in English would help you to learn English, and that participating fully in Canadian culture would help establish and cultivate Canadian values. Silly me. Better to ghettoize and then when they're ready, let them mix.

Oh, I know. These kids will be inside public schools, ostensibly learning the same curriculum and participating fully in school life, but don't imagine for a moment that there won't be two solitudes within those schools. If you have kids in Special Ed., you'll know what I mean.

Rather than funding another expensive social experiment with our school systems, why don't we just admit that we haven't managed our English as a Second Language programs effectively. ESL in the public school system in Toronto is a joke, and I doubt it's much better in Windsor. Here in TO, kids whose first language is not English, but who were born in Canada, aren't allowed to participate. They speak their parents' mother-tongue at home and are expected to just 'pick up' English in the school yard I guess. The program ends around Grade 3 with limited support in the higher grades. And Windsor wants to spend money teaching kids in a foreign language? This is another stupid idea that will find its way to Toronto no doubt.

Many Ontarians are keen throw out our heritage and to stop public funding of Catholic schools because it's 'unfair' and 'too expensive' and here is the Windsor School Board trying to justify Arabic immersion. In some areas of Scarborough more than 60% of kids don't speak English as a first language -- what should we do for them? There are several different language groups here and English is the minority. Maybe we should create several learning solitudes. Or maybe we should only fund the language groups where numbers allow, regardless of the language. In some places, that would mean both English and French are out.

The answer to integrating people into Canadian life isn't to educate immigrant kids in their native language. Doing so can't possibly advance their participation in community life -- unless we plan for them to stay within an exclusively Arabic-speaking community.



valiantmauz said...

' [kids] literate in their first language are more adept at acquiring English or French.' and that 'if children of immigrants do not feel alienated from their family's language and culture, they adapt most readily to Canadian culture and values.'

While the second point seems tenuous, the first I can testify to in person. I've taught ESL, and students (adults) who were literate in their first language picked up English much more quickly. They understand the concept of grammar, spelling, the alphabet, etc, which removes a very big obstacle to learning a second language. Literacy in any language greatly improves the ability to become literate in a second.

I wonder if the first language was anything other than Arabic, would this article have been written in the first place?

valiantmauz said...

Addendum - I meant the G&M article, not yours, C.

valiantmauz said...

Off topic, but necessary to say: ESL funding in general is a disgrace.

Canadi-anna said...

Adults and children have different ways of learning.

Children and babies immersed in a language will pick up the cues etc. from hearing and interacting. Reading etc. begins along the way. Remove them from full immersion in English or French classroom environment, you take away some of the tools that help immigrant kids to understand the idioms and nuances the language we should want them to learn. This decreases their ability to fully participate in Canadian life and culture and the longer we put it off, the harder it will be for them to engage.

Adults in general are far more structured in their learning of a second language, precisely because the elements of grammar and spelling in one language are ingrained.

My kids go to school in a highly multicultural area. While I sincerely believe the ESL is lacking, there are kids who come to school with no English at the beginning of a school year and by the end of it they are speaking almost fluently. The grammar and spelling can come later -- at least they are able to participate in Canadian life with ease.

I have only minor concerns over Heritage Language programs which reinforce home languages and those concerns have to do with funding --so for me, this isn't a race thing. As for the article, I think it would have been written even if the language in question was Manderin.

This is a bilingual country. It's bad enough most of us only speak one of our offical languages. How can we justify educating children in neither, with English as just another class amongst the many?

valiantmauz said...

I have never taught at the elementary level, and it's true that young children do pick up languages in a different way than adults. Picking up the language through total immersion does work, but somewhat haphazardly.

What's the curriculum for Kindergarten through Grade 2? I can see the rationale for teaching math and science, etc. in a first language. Less so for English and French.

Canadi-anna said...

But then what about kids who speak Farsi? Cantonese? Tamil? Tagalog?

The Charter provides for equality -- how do we justify favouring one ethnic minority and not providing the same benefits to others?

The things kids learn K -2 are less about the subjects, and more about the interacting and communicating. Much of Grade 1 & 2 math and science is hands on, and therefore provides excellent opportunities for learning language through interaction.

valiantmauz said...

This is one case where "fairness" is nearly impossible to achieve. We can fund the majority minority (50% is a truly astonishing number), or fund as many as possible, leaving out the 2 and 3 percenters, or we can fund none and put all ESL students at a disadvantage. None of the options strike me as fair or equal.

I don't know the answer, really. I'd like to see an education system that turns out graduates who are 100% literate in English, French and at least one other language.

That's idealistic, but just think what kind of advantage our students would have if every last one was trilingual.

I guess I am not that exercised about this issue. If the agenda is to turn out literate, integrated students - and this initiative accomplishes that - then great.

If not, then not.

One would think we'd have conclusive data by now though about whether this approach works. I didn't see hard numbers in the article about success vs. failure and I'd like to see a comprehensive study as to what what works and what doesn't.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former elementary teacher, taught in the TDSB and other boards...immersion creates isolation in my experience. It does little to help integrate the children. The children who astonished me at their capacity to learn the language on the playground, etc...were those who were integrated into the mainstream classroom quickly.

That's been my experience, but I don't think that the boards care to hear that. It doesn't give them any political brownie points, does it?

Anonymous said...

There are too many of these people here in the first place and that is the problem in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand....if we end up with teenagers, adults who can speak arabic and english, we'll have many Canadian translators when the Taleban takes over.....(shudder)

Right from Hamilton said...

As already stated, it DOES help them pick up English. Plus there is a need in government for translators (esp. for CSIS). Could it also be mentioned that learning more languages improves your mind and your skills at your current language. After taking Latin my parents noticed as very sudden improvement... In my English!

Canadi-anna said...

right from hamilton -- there is no question that learning multiple languages is a plus, but it shouldn't be at the expense of learning the official languages of your country of citizenship.

What happens to these kids once their immersion program is finished? They are then Arab learners in an English school system. How does that help anyone?

Children who speak Arabic at home have that language and parents are free to find schools outside the public education system to give their kids language lessons. When I was a kid, I knew lots of kids who went to German school on Saturday mornings.

There is no dispute about learning more than one language, just about where it's appropriate to learn that language. This isn't about learning Arabic -- they know Arabic already --these kids will be learning their core subjects in Arabic. This is about not learning English.

Either we have two official languages that should be promoted and used within public institutions or we will be like Babel.
Say what you like about the need for translators, but if we put people into isolating linguistic communities, they might never feel the need to speak to the rest of us in a language that isn't part of their growing up.

Anonymous said...

Lets face it ,Muslims have figured out how to have Madrassa's in Canada and be funded by the Taxpayers.
CAIR-Canada has made it clear that Irshad Manji and Tarek Fatah are apostates to be punished under Shariah Law , and that any Muslim canadian or American that doesn't use a Arabic Quran is not a true Muslim.
CAIR had a rep. on the Glenn Beck show and the video is on youTube under the title Ahmed Bedier or CAIRtv on CAIR's website archives for videos , Sheema Khan and Lib MP Omar Al-Ghabra will be at a Ottawa Conference this weekend for Shariah Law in Canada .
The flyer lists the May 20th Session #6 as being about ending Multiculturalism so Muslim aren't grouped in with "Others" as minorities, and Omar will be there for the "Shared-Citizenship" crusade so Muslims can be Loyal to Islam first and then be a Global Muslims living in canada with a Passport and all the benefits.

**Here is a CBC story from 1999 and note how Sikh's aren't happy with just living here , they slowly want to transplant their values as if canada is just a Hotel people can check into and leave before paying the bill.
The slaughter of about 240 Canadians by Sikh terrorists in B.C. has now become the fault of the RCMP and CSIS as if they actuall put the bomb onboard for the Terrorists , and the Jihadists being rounded up in canada are now victims of RCMP Islamophobia and Racial profiling and not their plan to slaughter 000's in Toronto.

A tribunal has upheld a Human Rights Commission decision that will allow Sikh's to ride motorcycles without a safety helmet. The case began four years ago when Avtar Dhillon launched a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
Dhillon wasn't allowed to take a test for his motorcycle license because he wasn't wearing a helmet. The Commission ruled Dhillon's rights had been violated and in a ruling released today, the tribunal agreed.
Chief Commissioner Mary-Woo Sims says the ruling sends a clear message to the government. She said "When you enact laws you must make sure that it accommodates the differences of British Columbians' religious beliefs... that it doesn't unnecessarily or unintentionally discriminate against British Columbians."
The Motor Vehicle Act requires all motorcyclists in B.C. to wear a helmet. The tribunal says that act discriminates against members of the Sikh religion.

NO, it unfairly burdens the non-Sikhs that must pay the Hospital Bills for these idiots that challenge the Laws and Gravity and Bodies in Motion .
Muslims want to cover their heads, Sikh's don't want to uncover their heads , and when Terrorists from Islam and Sikhism murder thousands of civilains it's all because they are oppressed in the West and victims of Racism.

Raphael Alexander said...

I agree completely with the above post. In fact I believe ESL fosters a dependent habit for immigrants in their classes. The best way for immigrants to integrate into Canada is not immersion classes within their own culture, but actual immersion in Canadian society.

What concerns me is the Liberal notion that culture and language must be preserved to the extent that we could soon see societies in Canada which have exclusive language classes in their selective language, thereby removing the need to learn either French or English at all. In the future Canada could be an amalgamate of foreign-born neighbourhoods which act autonomously expect to pay taxes federally and provincially.

Good post Canadi-anna.

Canadi-anna said...

Rafael -- language must be preserved to the extent that we could soon see societies in Canada which have exclusive language classes in their selective language, thereby removing the need to learn either French or English at all.


PelaLusa said...

Today I was unpacking some old boxes that had been stored at an uncle's home for the past 5 years. I opened one box to discover a Canadian flag, a really big Canadian flag. I forgot I had bought this so long ago.

This got me thinking about a question I ponder every so often: "What does it mean to be a Canadian?"

Stories like you've presented give me great pause for thought.

Expo '67 occurred 40 years. Over that time our federal government has actively promoted two "interesting" initiatives:

1. Ask not what you can do for your country, only ask what your country can do for you.

2. Don't worry at all about adopting to Canadian ways. Keep all of your old traditions, don't bother learning any of the official languages of the country, and even feel free to keep any of the past prejudices and hatred from your homeland.

We, Canada, are the land of unlimited wealth and tolerance. We have no expectations of you other than you pay your taxes and vote for us (Note: "us" changes periodically but it's still the same old, same old.)

This is why I'm not surprised by what Windsor has done. It's just par for the course; in a direction that's a downward spiral into which the word "Canadian" will have absolutely no meaning in just a few more generations.

Canadi-anna said...

Pelalusa -- even the paying taxes thing seems optional for some.

Anonymous said...

Someone made a comment that if it wasn't Arabic, would people be upset? I'd say yes because no other group in the city of Windsor was and is allowed to have an entire school offer immersion in any other language. There is a rich Italian community in Windsor. There weren't Italian immersion schools. Many Bosnians who fled the war also came to Windsor. They never had immersion in their languages. If you want to bring in the whole discrimination argument, then it is every other immigrant OTHER than those who speak Arabic who are discriminated against. English and French are our official languages. Period.
What concerns me is the future. These grade 1 students will one day seek entrance in a secondary school. Will we have to publically fund an Arabic immersion secondary school? How about university and college classes?
German, Italian, Croatian, Chinese, etc immigrants also pay taxes. Do they not also deserve immersion in their languages?

Canadi-anna said...

Good point.
Let's just hope no one tries to make this more 'fair' by offering immersion for all the others.