Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
We sunk the armada - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
We sunk the armada
I am about to be very politically incorrect. You have been warned.

I'm still on Kindergarten Quest with associated freak-out ongoing. I had a lovely discussion with Meg about schools and she told me about the charter school in the district that I hadn't known had existed, and it sounded pretty darn good. There was one exception I found when I got home though: they emphasize reading, math, and Spanish.

What is it with every school everywhere teaching Spanish and no other foreign language? I am all for my kids learning foreign languages. We're about to get our second Mandarin speaking au pair, so obviously I value being bilingual. I just want to get some choice as to what they are bilingual in. To my way of thinking Mandarin >> Spanish. Think about it, there are 1.3 billion people in China, which in case you hadn't noticed is well on track to be the next superpower if they aren't there already. Meanwhile every school in the district is talking about how they teach Spanish.

I get that Spanish is easy to teach, though I suspect that if one were actively looking for Mandarin speakers to teach in the schools one would find a ready supply in Chinatown. Of course Spanish does use mostly the same alphabet as English, which makes it easier, but so does French, German, Italian, etc.

I hear the pro-Spanish camp say is that we should all learn Spanish because the country on our border speaks it, as do many immigrants. I would counter that here in greater Boston most of the non-english speaking immigrants from Latin America are from Brazil, where they speak Portuguese, and that we are a seven hour car ride from Montreal, where they speak French. Why then must all the local schools teach Spanish to all the kids? I could really go for French or even Portuguese.

It seems like part of the pro-Spanish push comes from a desire to be helpful and/or sympathetic to the Hispanic population who seem to be struggling academically and not becoming proficient in English. I don't think forcing everyone to learn Spanish is going to help with that. I spent a long time combing through the accountability data on the local district schools, and while most seemed to be struggling with the Hispanics not a one of them was accused of failing Asian students, who seem to be outperforming whites in the district. What is the difference between the two groups? I'm guessing it's Tiger Moms. So I want Margaret to learn her Mandarin, and maybe some French as well. It seems like she'll have no choice but to learn some Spanish as well, but unless there's some pretty radical change she's likely to end up using her Spanish for exactly the same thing her Auntie Margaret uses her Spanish for: talking to the cleaning lady and the mechanic.
14 comments or Leave a comment
dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: January 15th, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
So, with the giant blinking caveat of I don't actually know...

Is Spanish the new lingua franca, at least in the US? I totally get your point about learning Mandarin. I rather admire one of Alyse's younger cousins who is growing up in Hong Kong: she's fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, plus has been studying... French or Spanish or something. "Well. You should go into business and rule the world." :)

But if you take a random slice of people in metro Boston, if people are multilingual, are the majority of people either English-and-something or Spanish-and-something speakers? If so, I think that's the argument for learning Spanish. Moreso if this is true across the US.

I suspect there is some regional pride in learning particular languages, which is hard to sift through.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: January 15th, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why is that an argument for learning Spanish? I'd think the point of learning a foreign language is to speak to people who are not multilingual.

In Boston, I'd bet almost everyone who is multilingual is English and something, so English suffices for that.
dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: January 15th, 2013 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think I phrased it right. :) The experience I keep thinking of was at Boston City Hospital. If you could only speak two languages, which two would you want? We-ll, sure, it depends on the nearby communities. This goes back to the original point: are there more Portuguese speakers than Spanish? No idea. I wouldn't've thought so, but well, data.

There's also an argument of "what will be useful out in the world". There, I'd expect Spanish.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: January 16th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
A lingua franca is only a sensible concept in a context with no majority speaking any given first language. Since the US has a single majority language, there can be no lingua franca.
mjperson From: mjperson Date: January 15th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not always utility...

I my school, I wanted to learn Spanish, since my grandmother spoke it better than English. But they required a partner language in the first year. If you wanted to learn Spanish, you had to take a half-year of German. If you wanted French, you needed to take Russian. So I took Spanish and German and in the end got to choose between the two. I speak German today because I thought it a more interesting language, with rules and grammar more in my own style.

Even today, Spanish would be far more useful for me, with all of my trips to South America, let alone dealing with family, but apparently usefulness isn't the only reason to learn a language.

Teaching only one option seems lazy though...
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: January 16th, 2013 03:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not always utility...

German is an excellent second language for a native English-speaking scientist, though. More useful to a generic scientist than Spanish. Obviously English is completely dominant in science, but if you already have that, and we aren't specifying any more precisely than "scientist", then German is the one.

We shouldn't ignore the value of being a "more interesting language". More interesting means you're more likely to learn it better, and it usually also means that it's more different from English, which is good because it means you'll get more of the secondary cognitive benefits of learning another language.

(Imagine if there were a language whose grammar was identical to English such that a word-for-word translation straight out of a dictionary were a perfect translation. Borrrrring. And it's just an exercise in vocabulary memorization, rather than the much more cognitively variable task of learning unfamiliar ways of organizing the elements of language.)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: January 16th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not always utility...

Yes, there is more than utility to consider. The pro-Spanish only argument seems to be one of utility, which is why I was opposing it with a utility argument, but having a choice is huge.
sorceror From: sorceror Date: January 15th, 2013 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
unless there's some pretty radical change she's likely to end up using her Spanish for exactly the same thing her Auntie Margaret uses her Spanish for: talking to the cleaning lady and the mechanic.

Yikes! Well, you did warn us. :-)

While I agree that Mandarin is a logical first choice of second language these days, it does seem to me that Spanish is also an excellent choice for anyone living in the Americas. And apparently it's on the rise - the Spanish-speaking population of the US and the world is increasing. Spanish is the second-ranked native language in the world after Mandarin, and second most widespread after English.

French is obviously the second language of choice here in Canada, but the truth is that a lot of francophones here speak very good English - especially in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. There are in fact language laws because there's such a general fear of assimilation - but don't get me started on that topic... :-P).
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: January 16th, 2013 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not upset about Spanish being offered, just to be clear, but I am upset that it by default the mandatory only option in my school district with Montreal a reasonable drive away. I've also run into a few folks in Montreal who spoke little enough English that they got subjected to my poor high-school French, and I've used French a number of times in WoW and other online games to communicate with players from Quebec. You can make a case for Spanish, but I don't think it's a strong enough case to award it a monopoly on the second language slot in public schools.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: January 16th, 2013 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think it's a utility argument. I think it's a combination of what they can get cheap teachers for, and what a large segment of the ESL population knows.
baronet From: baronet Date: January 16th, 2013 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I remember a web article that tried to be objective about it and came out in favor of French for some reason, with Mandarin in the top 3. Alas I can't find it now.

I did find this which puts the top 3 as French, Mandarin and Arabic. I have no idea whether Bloomberg used any reasonable scoring criteria.

I'm surprised that French makes the top 3. I don't run across it very often personally.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: January 29th, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe the French have business with their former colonies locked up.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: January 17th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC) (Link)
A friend of mine recently bought a house in Holliston specifically because of the K-12 French-immersion program. It's a bit of planning ahead as her daughter is still three years away from kindergarten.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: January 22nd, 2013 12:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Is Spanish the only language offered for elementary school? Usually languages are started heavily in. Middle school (with choices) as the multiple teachers/classes allows more choices. We don't have language at all in elementary school, but I can't see how they couldn't easily offer choices in those grades without some major restructuring. So you have to pick something.... Do they just have a single language teacher? Or do many/most of the teachers they hire have to speak the second language?

For middle school we have a choice of French or Spanish. Although they were going to only offer Spanish due to budget cuts but we have both options. I think there are many more choices in HS, though.

I took Spanish myself. I wish I had chosen German or Latin. I took Spanish in HS because I done Spanish in middle school (where there was no choice or limited choice) but I wish I had switched. Latin is handy for science, especially biology/medicine. Although I suppose it isn't as useful for communicating with other countries.
14 comments or Leave a comment