Why I Had to Lie About My Child’s Bilingualism

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Editor’s note: We normally don’t publish anonymous posts, but considering the sensitivity of the issue discussed in the one below, we decided it was the best route to take. 

My son started kindergarten at our local school this September. When registering him for his classes, it was necessary to lie about our home language use. Being a teacher, I am well aware of what happens to children who are identified as English Language Learners (ELL). Students are often pulled out of their classes and tested repeatedly until they satisfy some requirement set by the state or the district. There is also the risk of ELL students being placed in dumbed-down English as a Second Language class or even a “slow” class. There is the misperception that students who speak another language at home are not as proficient in English and would be unable to keep up with the brighter students.

I am not advocating that classes for English Language Learners are not necessary. They can be very valuable and helpful for children who are new to the United States, but that is not the case with my children. Although our home language is not English, my children were born and raised in the United States and even attended pre-school in English. They are completely fluent in Spanish, English and German, but yet, had I been honest when registering my son for kindergarten, he would have been labeled an English Language Learner (ELL). He would be regularly pulled from his normal class to be tested on his English proficiency, and he would be tracked as an ELL student for years into his education. His placement in classes in subsequent grades would be influenced by his bilingualism.

To avoid of all this, I simply lied. I wrote that our home language was English, and until all of the myths and misperceptions surrounding the speaking of other languages are cleared up, I will continue to do so.

It is amazing how behind the United States is when it comes to foreign language education. It is absurd that the public education system often waits until the students are in high school to start learning a language, when it is often much harder for a learner. Young children have the ability to acquire language naturally without being forced to memorize vocabulary and analyze a new grammar system. More and more studies are emerging pointing to the benefits of speaking two languages.

Hopefully the recent publicity surrounding the benefits of bilingualism will change the public perception of speaking and learning another language, and the learning of other languages will become a desired skill to acquire. Maybe by then, the American school system will catch-up. Until that time, I will continue to lie about the languages we speak at home so that my children will avoid the consequences of speaking Spanish.

{Image by woodleywonderworks}

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