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