Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/304/metro/Dozens_of_dialects_English_the_goal+.shtml

Dozens of dialects, English the goal

By Megan Tench, Boston Globe Staff, 10/31/2002

ast week, five new students from Africa showed up at English High School in Jamaica Plain. None of them
spoke English.

They were sent over from another Boston high school because ''the teachers at the other schools don't know what to
do with them,'' said Francisco Ruiz, English High's director of bilingual education. ''When teachers don't know how to
teach them, they don't survive.''

The bilingual education debate focuses on Spanish-speaking students, who make up two-thirds of the state's bilingual
student population. But Boston, like other districts, faces a more complex challenge: teaching English to students who
speak dozens of native languages - in Boston's case, 42.

Statewide, 128,219 students have native languages that range from Portuguese and Chinese to Khaikha Mongolian,
Ibo, and Hindi.

The new students at English High, for example, come from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Senegal, speaking languages
that mix English, French, and African dialects. At English, the students will be placed in a multilingual, sheltered
immersion class with Middle Eastern, Russian, Ethiopian, and Albanian students.

Claudia Bell, a 27-year bilingual education teacher, runs a multilingual class at English High that includes students
from different countries who are preparing to be mainstreamed into regular English classes.

She says it is important for students to express themselves in their native tongues as they grow confident using
English. ''We want them to have the skills to compete and to think critically,'' Bell said. ''English is the tool to get them
there, but we have much greater hopes for them other than just knowing English words.''

Yesterday, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and city councilors joined to oppose Question 2, which seeks to replace
bilingual education programs with English immersion. ''Please don't be duped by somebody coming here from
California,'' Menino said, referring to Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who is sponsoring Tuesday's ballot initiative.
''Immersion doesn't work.''

Bell and Ruiz also oppose Question 2. If the initiative passes, students may have to get waivers that would be allowed
for those 10 and older in order to continue with bilingual education.

''I don't believe in `sink or swim.' Bilingual education is much more complicated than that,'' said Ruiz, noting that
some students from war-torn or poor countries arrive with little academic preparation and can struggle more to learn
English, as opposed to European students who arrive with a better academic foundation.

Russian immigrant Elena Shpilevoy, however, learned firsthand about taking the plunge to learn English when her
family arrived in Massachusetts and she became a Sharon Middle School seventh-grader.

''I had no choice. I had no one to help me, or translate for me, so I was put right into regular classes with
English-speaking students,'' said Shpilevoy, 17. ''During the classes some of my teachers, like my literacy teacher,
would draw pictures on flashcards matching them with words. And that's how I learned English, by writing things down
and constantly hearing words said.''

It was difficult and isolating, she said, but she learned English.

''It took me half a year to get comfortable with the fact that I was in different classes in a different country,'' Shpilevoy
said. ''By eighth grade I could understand what was spoken in the classes, and communicate with teachers. In the
ninth grade I started making friends.''

She is now an honors student at Sharon High School, trying to strengthen her verbal skills to earn a better SAT score.
Her parents also decided to learn English; all three are taking classes at Ted's English School in Stoughton, which
uses the immersion approach.

''If I can teach English to any beginner with any native language, then any other good teacher can do it,'' said Ted
Coine, who runs the school and supports Question 2.

''Yes, it's going to be difficult for the student at first, but by keeping kids in a structured class, they'll learn English
quickly,'' he said. ''Under proper conditions, a year is a long time to learn a language.''

Also yesterday, James Carlin, former head of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, announced his
endorsement of Question 2. ''I'm very heartened that the voters of Massachusetts are now finally at the verge of
ending this failed educational experiment,'' Carlin said.

Marcelos Suarez-Orozco is a researcher who opposes Question 2, but acknowledges that bilingual education programs
have not necessarily fulfilled their promise to teach students English.

Suarez-Orozco is director of the Harvard University Immigration Project, a five-year study that tracked the progress of
400 immigrant students in the United States, including some in Boston and San Francisco.

The research is ongoing, but partial results show 90 percent of families wanted their children to learn English, calling
into question whether bilingual education programs have succeeded, Suarez-Orozco said.

''Bilingual education advocates need to keep in mind that immigrant parents want their children to learn English,''
Suarez-Orozco said. ''They understand the importance of learning English.''

At the same time, Suarez-Orozco believes immersion offers a quick solution to a complex issue. ''Those who claim
that immigrants are not learning English are ignorant,'' he said. ''Immigrant children today are learning English
probably better than ever before in our country. But to get the kind of English you want your children to have is going
to take longer than a year.''

In addition, Suarez-Orozco found that a great number of parents also want their children to retain their native
language, including 83 percent of Chinese immigrants, 80 percent of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, 85
percent of Central American immigrants, 70 percent of Haitian immigrants, and 95 percent of Mexican immigrants.

Stoughton parent Anna Maria Coghi is proud that her daughter has learned English quickly, yet fearful that Bianca, 4,
may never speak Portuguese.

Arriving from Brazil a year ago, Bianca was immersed in English at her preschool. ''I was nervous. I sat myself by the
telephone waiting for them to call and tell me `to rescue Bianca, she can't understand anything we say,''' Coghi said.
But no one called.

Now Bianca ''speaks English as an American,'' her mother said. ''I try to learn from her - she's so proper, so American.''

Still, Coghi added: ''She won't have any problem adjusting in the country, but on the other hand we do have relatives
in Brazil. I want her to be able to communicate with them. I want to do my best to keep her speaking Portuguese at
home.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/31/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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