Horrors of learning to speak English: AZ classes lead to segregation, low self-esteem, study says

Teaching people to speak English in America can be just plain mean.

Is it wrong to expect American students to know English?/Ryn Gargulinski

After all, some English language classes in Arizona segregate the students and thus riddle them with low self-esteem, according to two articles penned by a pair of University of Arizona faculty members and a graduate student.

These articles, co-authored by faculty Cecilia Rios-Aguilar and Luis C. Moll with student Manuel González-Canche, were released last week by the by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Every time we turn around, something somewhere is violating someone’s civil rights. Bring on a lawsuit.

It’s amazing we can even continue to function as a society, if you call us functioning.

Before we move on to the full horror of the English learning experience, we must point out that no, students are not forced into hot, windowless chambers listening to incessant tape recordings repeating the phrase, “My aunt owns a pencil sharpener.”

All they are being asked to do is learn a non-native language, which is a daunting task for anyone, but one that is possible with dedication, immersion, constant study and work, work, work.

Maybe they don’t like the work.

Alas, the work could be much too difficult – and, according to the articles, damaging to their psyches.

Maybe students read TV mags instead of homework?/Ryn Gargulinski

Among the UA team’s key findings:

* English learners were not proficient in English after one year in the new state-mandated English Language Development, or ELD, block program.

* 85 percent of teachers said that for the English learners, being segregated was “harmful” to their education.

* Given the four-hour block, English learners were placed at a disadvantage for successfully completing the necessary coursework to graduate from high school or pursue higher education.

Here are our responses to the findings:

* Not proficient in English after one year?

Did the students do their homework? Did they attempt to speak English outside the classroom in social situations or simply rely on repeating back “My cat is yellow, how are you?” to the teacher? Heck, some native speakers aren’t even proficient in English after 20 years.

* Segregating students learning English from people who already know English is “harmful” to the non-English speakers’ education?

Perhaps it would be better, then, to lump non-English speakers in a classroom full of proficient English speakers and just hope for the best. How absurd to put students learning a foreign language in their own room where they can learn in peace. Please put them with the general student body and let them fall behind instead. Better yet, make the other students learn not to speak in English when the non-native speakers are around.

* A four-hour block of foreign language classes is too treacherous?

Full immersion would be English only all day – the four-hour block lets students off easy.

But it seems there is no easy answer to all this guff – or no easy way to live without people constantly crying about being wronged, even when these wrongs stem from offering a program for teaching people English.

We gotta love America. Or at least we used to.

Please note: Yes, this article was written with sarcasm – and also with a high level of frustration. I have always been on the bandwagon for a need for a national language in America and yes, that language should be English. My second vote is for French and third would be Swahili.


What do you think?

Are English language programs forcing students into undue hardship and segregation?

Should we all speak Swahili instead?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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26 Responses to Horrors of learning to speak English: AZ classes lead to segregation, low self-esteem, study says

  1. leftfield says:

    Take deep breaths, Ryn and imagine you are someplace very peaceful and serene. 

    Some of your questions are answered by one of the authors of the study in the concluding paragraph of the article regarding the study:
    “We are not saying students should not learn English. But we are saying that the acquisition of learning another language is a complex process,” she said. “It’s not just about them being able to build grammatically correct sentences. We want them to be socially accepted and socialize successfully, but also able to understand math, science and other subjects, too.”

    • Rynski says:

      hahhaha! thanks for the serene thought reminder, lefty – i’ll imagine i’m in detroit, surrounded by the glory of the heidelberg project – hahahha.
      thanks, too, for the quote – and glad it reinforces that ‘(they) are not saying students should not learn english…’
      but it still doesn’t address concerns raised by claims of classes leading to low self-esteem, segregation, homework vs ‘tv y mas,’ etc.
      ALSO – ‘We want them to be socially accepted and socialize successfully’ – well, just knowing english is not going to fix that one – there are plenty of native english speakers who can’t overcome that obstacle (i’ll fill you in on my high school years one day – hahhahahahha).

      • leftfield says:

        As to how they came to the conclusions that self-esteem is threatened, I think one would have to be able to read and understand the actual research.  The article is just broadly descriptive and not detailed.  Of course, any research has to be repeatable for the conclusions to be broadly accepted.  And, the research method in this case was limited to interviews with teachers and administrators.  A long-term study involving actual participants in English immersion programs would be helpful to see if there are any long-term negative consequences. 

      • Rynski says:

        yes, i think talking to the actual STUDENTS would have helped bolster the findings greatly.

  2. sethers says:

    * Not proficient in English after one year?
    Did the students do their homework? Did they attempt to speak English outside the classroom in social situations or simply rely on repeating back “My cat is yellow, how are you?” to the teacher? Heck, some native speakers aren’t even proficient in English after 20 years.
    I have to cry foul on this one. We don’t expect English speakers to learn languages in a year and most people I know who have lived in a foreign country and learned the language have said that it takes 2 years of completely immersion to be proficient. Actually, there are people that I work with who haven’t even learned how to do their jobs in a year.
    These are students who we are asking to learn a foreign language when their parents probably can’t speak it and we aren’t just asking them to be conversational, we are asking them to learn very technical language required for education. One year? That’s not a lot of time.

    • Rynski says:

      i’m with ya, seethers.
      i’ve studied french at both high school and college level for WAY more than one year and would not feel comfortable saying i was ‘proficient’ – esp after not using it regularly.
      if you don’t use the lang regularly – as you point out that some may not use it at home – it flies away quicker than those really cool tarantula wasps i love.
      sometimes i can barely eavesdrop on canadians – hahahah.
      thanks for comment!

  3. GOP Grandma says:

    Give me a break.  What do you think our parents and grandparents did when they came from the old country?  They immersed themselves in the English language 24/7 by friends, neighbors, radio.  They wanted to assimilate in thier new country.
    It is called studying my friend.  If you start a kid in kindergarten and by high school they still have to have English classes to teach them, maybe we should look at the program that is not working.  English only is the only way to teach.
    When you try to learn a foreign language there has to be some dedication to learning.  It does not come by entitlement.

    • Rynski says:

      you’re on target, gop grandma!
      thanks for input. if language learning came easy, i’d surely know swahili by now….hahahahah.

    • leftfield says:

      That said, when is Jim Kelley going to learn to spell?  He’s been here a long time, hasn’t he?

    • leftfield says:

      What do you think our parents and grandparents did when they came from the old country? 

      My guess is, they probably said to themselves, “Holy Crap!  What kind of place is this?  These people are nuts!”.

      • Rynski says:

        ha! funny you should mention such – the skycap in phoenix was a native of poland (who liked my last name) – he said he’s more than ready to move back based on the way things are going here lately….

      • Rynski says:

        p.s. YES, he was proficient in english….

    • tuksonrider says:

      I know some parents or grand parents that still have a tough time learning the language of the land, but they communicate just fine.
      There’s a difference between “speaking English correctly”, and “effective communication”.  Mastery of one does not mean the mastery of the other.
      I know some people that have a mastery of the english language, but takes them 10 minutes to explain what they want at Burger King.

      • Rynski says:

        hhaahha! excellent points, tuksonrider.
        what strikes me as very important, too, is simply trying to use a foreign language. even if people boggle it to shreds, at least they are learning as they go and giving it a shot.
        thanks for comment – and i, too, know a few of those burger king 10-minute explanation types – hahahhaha.

    • medicareblogger says:

      I studied French in college and served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, where French is the second language.  By the end of two years I was pretty proficient in speaking French, but writing it was another matter.  I could never have passed written exams in French. In Morocco, a poor country, everyone who was educated through high school spoke Arabic and French and learned English as a second language.  Actually, the toughest class for the kids was “classical Arabic”, a language they did not speak but is the basis of their own local Arabic dialect. My Moroccan students were amazing with their language abilities. I think the education system there – with no high tech language labs or computers – was much better than here in the U.S.

  4. ado1 says:

    My grandparents came to this country(legally I might add) from Slovenia, learned English through classes and through total immersion. They learned it well enough to become U.S. citizens and were extremely proud of that fact.  Why should today’s immigrants be any different merely because their native language(for the most part) is Spanish and they came here from Mexico?

    • leftfield says:

      Your grandparents can stay, Ado, but you have to go. 

      • DesertRat says:

        Why does ado have to go leftfield? Because he makes a valid point and you can’t stand it?

      • leftfield says:

        At least Mao had the decency not to print everything in bold letters.  

      • ado1 says:

        Hi Lefty,

        That response is straight outta’ Mao’s Little Red Book ain’t it?

        All dissenters from the official party line are taken care of expeditiously,  and the family is sent a bill for the cost of the bullet.

      • leftfield says:

        Listen, Ado- I talked to the Politburo, and though it took me a while, I convinced them not to charge you for the bullet.  Don’t say I never done nothing for ya.

  5. Josecanyousee? says:

    It takes an average of seven years of daily instruction and practice to get a handle on English. For the “my grandparents came here from …crew” here’s the BIG BLOODY DIFFERENCE regrading the most popular language in the WESTERN Hemisphere–Spanish! There’s a damn electronic infrastructure inplace that is radio, tv, web, newspapers, and billborads etc. that promotes SPANISH in its exchanges. Spanish-speakers find it harder to stay away from contact with the language because of this network of hispano medias. Greeks, Poles, Koreans, Russian, Serbs, Etc. don’t have the same amount of electronic media broadcasting their languages, Also, in the USA –we share a 2,000 mile border witha Spanish-speaking nation–Mexico, Mexicans are inside the USA by the millions, more than the Greeks, Poles, Koreans, Russians, Serbs, etc put together. The USA is the sixth largest Spanish-speaking nation of the 21 nations that speak that EUROPEAN (soccer champion nation) language globally.

  6. Josecanyousee? says:

    Do I think EVERYONE should learn to read and write as well as speak proper English? Yes, of course, but there’s a hundred million monolingual American English-speakers that must continue to learn how to read, write, spell, and pronounce basic English words. There is no one English–travel will prove how different it is just go to TEXAS and listen to King of the Hill English.  Fund education America.

  7. leftfield says:

    “the most popular language in the WESTERN Hemisphere–Spanish!”  

    I think they know this and it scares them. 

  8. markz says:

    The biggest problem with learning english for immigrants is when the familys speak nothing but their native language at home.  Grandma and grandpa don’t want to learn english and sometimes the parents.  So they go to school and learn to speak english but the minute they go home, they have to speak their native language.

  9. ESL writing says:

    For non native speakers, check out my ESL writing website with tonnes of essays…

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