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Everyone Needs A Mentor, But Especially the Bilingual Student

Aug 17, 2007
"According to Dorothy Zeymour, "A child is quick to grasp the feeling that while school speech is "good," his own speech is "bad," and that by extension he himself is somehow inadequate and without value. Children in society today are less likely to think highly of themselves due to lack of self-esteem, lack of knowledge, and lack of discipline. These children are seen everyday in today's society.

In order for these children to avoid feeling inadequate, they must be seen and heard in order to gain approval. Let's face it, every child needs a mentor, but especially the bi-lingual student.

The psychological impact upon children, who enter the American School System without knowing English, is avidly expressed in the story "Black Children Black Speech" by Dorothy Zeymour: "In either case the psychological results are devastating and lead straight to the dropout route"(339).

This leads the reader to believe that in today's students, there may lethargy or lack of goals toward educational literacy, and that there is a huge scar on the students who go through our system without mastery of English. For example, Maria Lopez is eight years old, a third grader in a local public school district.

She has doubts about whether her native tongue is the true language that she should be speaking in school. However, the teachers continue to discipline her when she uses her language, and this causes grand confusion for her humble mind.

She asks questions like: "Why can't I speak Spanish? Why do I need to learn English?" At home she is encouraged to speak Spanish only, and is often called on to interpret to English, even though she is only eight years old.

In fact, in the Houghton Mifflin Reading Series (2003) there is a story called "Pepita Talks Twice" by Ofelia Lachtman. It is about a six year old girl who is called upon often to interpret from Spanish to English on a daily basis. In the story she tells her father that she will never speak in Spanish again.

Her father becomes livid. As the story ends, the girl's dog, whom she normally calls "Lobo" (wolf) runs into the street. She calls out to him screaming: "Wolf, Wolf!" The dog doesn't move. Then she says "Lobo, Lobo!" and the dog moves away from the street and avoids a head on collision with a Volvo.

The young girl Pepita learns that she is blessed with two languages, and not cursed. In the end, she becomes thankful that she is bilingual, and her father praises her for saving the dog's life.

Like many Pepita's in today's world, there are several students who are encouraged to speak in English, but not in Spanish. This is sad. The Spanish students mentioned herein, Maria and Pepita, find themselves being confused and isolated by today's American Classrooms.

The solution should be that they must learn English, but yet be offered Spanish classes as well, so that they can learn to read, write, and speak in both languages. Unfortunately they are not, and instead they drop out, become confused, and never become productive members of society.

One can only envision the racial effects that this lack of encouragement to speak two languages has upon our students. Especially when you think about the language inflection and accents.

Perkins asserts, "Besides, there's a reason for this. Johnson's dialect, as is mine, is a mixture of accent and sentence construction handed down from enslaved Africans who didn't speak English, and weren't taught it."

Surprisingly, this embodies the thought patterns of a majority of teachers who believe that English is the only right language to be utilized. On the other hand Perkins also states, "It is unfortunate that we continue to engage in whose blacker than whom contests, that attack the preservation of one's cultural history and identity too, of all things, poor grammar" (Perkins 367).

For any student who has not been taught English, the richness of one's culture and history might be destroyed beyond measure. A positive or negative teacher, professor, or public speaker can make or break a student. if a teacher encourages the use of both languages instead of one, I believe that student will progress far beyond our expectations.

My wife is a living example of a student who could have been culturally destroyed. Instead, due to the many positive experiences she had as a small Latina (Hispanic) child, she became the culturally rich person that she is today. She remembers the encouraging role models that were in her life growing up. These included her mother, teachers, and counselors.

Yet many students may not have the positive atmosphere at home, school, or even at church. Certain excellent teachers, instructional aides, and administrators, can make or break the bilingual child. They may become the hero and mentor to the child. In fact, there are many classified employees, I have noticed, that are becoming "make it or break it" for these children.

Everyone needs a mentor, but especially the bilingual student. It doesn't matter the languages or racial background, these students need encouragement to utilize the gift of two languages.

Furthermore, "Past experience keeps black Americans gravely suspicious of anyone wanting to change anything about a way of life that's exclusive and therefore empowering" (Perkins 367).

Red, yellow, black, or white, students need to be encouraged to be confident of their cultures, let go of their inhibitions, trust those who can be trusted, overcome fear of learning a new language, run to teachers who care, and close all doors (mentally) to all negative past experiences.

A teacher who positively influences the bilingual multi-racial classroom will be sensitive to the intricate needs of these students. That teacher will also be opening up a whole new world of opportunity, enlightenment, and happiness within a students' unique cultural background.
About the Author
"Helping ALL to Succeed"
Don Alexander, Published Writer & Online Business Mentor
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