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Bilingual students should be encouraged

Bilingual students in public schools should be encouraged to continue their language skills.

As we read in the recent article, “Baltimore County schools are rapidly adding students. More than half are immigrants or speak another language” (Feb. 7), our state’s educators are encountering a significant increase in bilingual students. The population of students speaking a language other than English has increased 4 percent to 11 percent at Bedford Elementary in Pikesville alone.

Students who speak other languages come to school with a baseline knowledge of language in terms of syntax and vocabulary. This knowledge can aid students in learning “standard” American English. However, teachers need much more preparation on how to best assist these students.

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Our school system needs to invest in specific professional development and pedagogical tools to improve outcomes for bilingual students. Also, we — as educators and a society — need to recognize the value other languages bring to our culture and schools. When we focus on teaching only “standard” American English, we send a message that our bilingual students’ language and knowledge is “less than” rather than a tool for additional learning.

At Loyola, we teach educators how to recognize and tap into students’ native languages — reframing our conversations to view these as assets and resources rather than mistakes. One of the biggest misconceptions in education is that “good teaching” is good enough for all learners. However, there are effective practices that can help provide support for all students, regardless of background.

Margarita Zisselsberger, Baltimore

The writer is an assistant professor of literacy at the Loyola University Maryland School of Education.

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