The Guardian November 8, 2000


The immersion method

by Mike Quinn*

Here in New York, as has happened in California already, the corporate 
media is boo-hooing funding for bilingual education. The new, politically 
correct, free-market-type policy and buzzword is "immersion."

This means that immigrant children should be immersed in all-English 
classes as soon as they enter school here. This way, the theory goes, 
they'll learn English faster and better and thus be more successful in 
school and ultimately, it is presumed, more successful in life.

And coincidentally, the city won't have to cough up any money for bilingual 
education anymore.

In a recent New York Times article on the immersion method, the 
journalist gave an example of an immigrant child who was immersed in all-
English classes in a catholic school and, within several years, knew more 
English words than words in her native Spanish language.

This was used, apparently, as an example of success.

In an age of globalisation, the Internet, worldwide wireless communication, 
etc, will it be advantageous for her if she knows English better than 
Spanish?

Some of the most successful television stations and city newspapers and 
magazines here are in Spanish, not to mention a rather large portion of the 
earth referred to as Latin America.

Most of the hottest singers and musical groups in the US and in the world 
now are Spanish speaking and Spanish singing.

The world today holds three times as many native speakers of Chinese as 
native speakers of English. The numerical gap is impressive: about 1,113 
million people speak Chinese as their mother tongue, whereas only 372 
million speak English.

The proportion of native English-speakers in the world population is 
expected to shrink this century from more than eight per cent to less than 
five per cent.

In addition, non-English speakers are the fastest growing group of new 
Internet users. Internet traffic in languages other than English is 
expected to outstrip English-language traffic within the next few years.

That's because there are about 372 million people in the world whose native 
language is English and about 5,700 million people whose native language is 
something else.

I'm not against children learning English. I think it's a good thing in the 
context of bilingual education that provides instruction in learning the 
English language while simultaneously covering the curriculum in their 
native language.

But if New York City and other US cities and states go the same way as 
California and cut funding for bilingual education and replace it with the 
immersion method, then I would fight to have kids immersed in Chinese.

* * *
*Mike Quinn is a New York City schoolteacher.
People's Weekly World

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