Immersion method a proven success
San Antonio Express-News

James R. Ryan

As a retired school administrator, I am opposed to a bilingual program, irrespective of the language that is taught.

The program may have been founded with the best intentions, but it has become a bureaucratic nightmare defended by people who have lost sight of the real harm being done to students in the program, something attested to even by scholars of Mexican heritage.

Stephen Krashen, a California professor, is quoted in the article "Board hears English debate" (Feb. 10) as saying bilingual education failed there because of poor application.

That's similar to saying communism failed in the Soviet Union because it wasn't applied in a correct manner. Yet that ideology has never worked in whatever country it has been attempted.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is also quoted in this article as saying that while she wouldn't rule out immersion, neither is she convinced of its merit. Perhaps I can be of assistance to Van de Putte.

First, immersion worked effectively with the first immigrants who came to this country and has been proven most effective with the vast numbers of newcomers to America in the latter 19th and earlier 20th centuries. Students of immigrants heard only English in their schools, but maintained, in most instances, their first language in their homes.

Second, the final doctoral study classroom course I enrolled in at Michigan State University was in sociology and taught by Dr. Wilbur Brookover, professor emeritus. This is the story he related to his students the first day of class in the fall of 1969.

He became curious what language program was in place at Red Cedar Elementary, part of the East Lansing School District. He figured at least 50 foreign tongues were spoken there by pupils who were the children of doctoral students, residing across the street in married housing on the MSU campus. He met with the principal and asked if she would describe the special language program at her school.

She replied, "What language 'program'? All we speak here is English." She went on to explain that while it was true there was language confusion at the beginning of the school year, by Christmas vacation most students had mastered the English language.

She remarked to Dr. Brookover, "Don't forget. Children learn a new language much more readily than do we adults."

The success of the immersion approach, irrespective of the country in which it is applied, is a proven method, far better than anything else. One can check this out simply by examining its success record over many generations wherever it has been applied.

If I were to learn a language in another country, I would ask to be placed in a kindergarten classroom or in whatever classroom the basics of that language are emphasized. If a child of mine was attending an elementary school in Mexico, I would want to make sure he or she would be exposed to Spanish only, not a mixture of Spanish and English, where neither language is adequately learned and mastery of either becomes a lifelong struggle.

I respectively disagree with Elena Izquierdo, a professor at the University in Texas-El Paso, who is quoted in the article as saying, "Many times students will leave the (English-only) program weak in their first language, weak in their second language, and as a result we get a student that's illiterate in two languages." In actuality, it is bilingualism that creates this confusion.