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LETTER: Early intervention needed for English Language Learners

To the Editor:

In Lewiston’s Longley School, nearly two-thirds of the students don’t speak English. Still, and although it will be difficult, we have a responsibility to provide them with a public K-to-12 education. To do this, we must teach them spoken English.

However, the way we have chosen is puzzling: we meld them into classrooms with native, English-speaking children. When we attempt to teach classroom lessons, we must at the same time teach English to the non-native speakers and require them to simultaneously learn both the language and their lessons.

It is unreasonable to expect them to readily learn a second language and still make satisfactory progress with their normal studies. Also, their native-English-speaking classmates cannot be expected to progress normally since much of the class time will be expended to teach English. The overall class progress will be delayed and, consequently, so will all the students.

This process is flawed, but there must be creative alternatives. Would it be more productive and fairer to the classmates of the English Language Learners to teach the two groups in separate classrooms? We can hope that our educators have examined this problem and that the present process is indeed more efficient and not merely an easier choice.

There may be yet another alternative. For everything there is a time and a season: the time to learn a language is between two and seven years of age. While still within their cribs and for only a few additional years, babies and children have the ability, if not the opportunity, to easily acquire several languages.

Infants are language geniuses. Even before they can speak, they learn vowel sounds. Any normally developing infant from six to eleven months of age remains capable of easily learning any language in the world.

Consequently, it might be a better choice to teach English to our non-English speaking children before they start school. Following an early intervention with vowel sounds expose the children within a play environment periodically and systematically to native English speakers. Continue this until kindergarten.

This needn’t be expensive and doesn’t have to be unnecessarily complicated; we need only to duplicate what mothers say to their children. And ordinary mothers would be ideally qualified.

This alternative might be accomplished by employing Head Start, pre-K and any additionally needed interventions. Obviously, it shouldn’t require more hours to teach a language to children when they are younger and neurologically better suited than the effort required after they have started school. And because we shouldn’t require certified teachers, it should be remarkably less expensive.

It should, in fact, reduce our present and continuing costs of repetitively and simultaneously teaching both language and subject.

Educators frequently express a desire to inculcate creativity, imagination and problem-solving attributes into our students. This language problem in Lewiston’s Longley School may offer an opportunity to demonstrate these qualities.

Richard Sabine


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