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Pro: Bilingual students do better in every area

By Gheni_Platenburg
Oct. 9, 2011 at 5:09 a.m.

Patrick Hubble teaches Spanish at Victoria West High School.

Dual language education

For more information on dual language programs, log onto texastwoway.org.

For a listing of all the current Texas high school graduation plans, log onto tea.state.tx.us/graduation.

What is required

The issue of mandatory foreign language classes is one that has been the issue of controversy over the years.

Currently, high school students in Texas are required to complete two credits in a language other than English to graduate under the recommended high school graduation plan and three credits to graduate under the distinguished graduation plan.

Las Escaleras. La cocina. La sala. El jardin. El dormitorio.

Victoria West High School Spanish teacher Patrick Hubbell recited the words to his first period Spanish II students, prompting them to repeat them back in pronunciations that did little to hide the fact they were not native Spanish speakers.

"Sir, is that a casa or an apartamento?" asked Bailey Mendoza, as he questioned a picture Hubbell was using to describe the basic residential vocabulary words.

The interactive lesson is one of many that Hubbell uses to teach his students Spanish, a subject he thinks should be mandatory for all students.

"Students should learn a foreign language for the same reason we have them learn literature, to see the world from a different perspective," said Hubbell. "And it makes connections with English so that they can do better on their college exams."

Keeping in line with Texas curriculum foreign language requirements, the Victoria school district offers students the option of taking classes in Spanish, French and German.

"It teaches another communication skill," said VISD spokeswoman Diane Boyett. "In this area especially, Spanish comes in handy. In our global world, the ability to speak out of your native language is a plus."

The push for students to speak foreign languages is one that is relatively new.

A Houston native, Hubbell said he recalled Hispanic classmates in his early school years being discouraged from speaking in their native tongue while in school.

"The mindset was if you were here, you had to learn English," said Hubbell. "By the time you got to high school, unless you were freshly from Mexico, then you spoke English."

Nowadays, Hubbell, who has taught for 30 years, said he teaches Spanish to about 150 students on an annual basis.

While VISD begins offering foreign languages to students in the eighth grade, other school districts have begun teaching students foreign languages in elementary school through dual language programs.

Through the program, students are taught literacy and content in two languages.

The majority of dual language programs in the United States, which aim for bilingualism and biliteracy, teach in English and Spanish, although increasing numbers of programs use a partner language other than Spanish, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Hawaiian, Japanese or Korean.

Dual language programs use the partner language for at least half of the instructional day in the elementary years.

The programs generally start in kindergarten or first grade and extend for at least five years, although many continue into middle school and high school.

Currently, the state has 366 registered dual language programs in Katy, Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso and Spring Branch, according to the Texas Two-Way/Dual Language Consortium's website.

Holly Hansen-Thomas, an associate professor of ESL and bilingual education at Texas Woman's University in Denton, has seen firsthand the success of dual language programs, as her daughter is enrolled in one that involves English and Spanish.

Hansen-Thomas said while Anglophone students in her daughter's class receive more reading and writing instruction in English, native Spanish speaking students receive more instruction in these areas in their native language.

Meanwhile, the subjects of math and science are given in both languages.

MayDell Jenks, executive director of the Texas Foreign Language Association, supports starting foreign language courses at an early age.

"It's the natural approach. We learn our first language by modeling and using the language over and over," said Jenks. "Students can absorb the language so much better at a younger age."

Despite state funding for foreign language courses, Hensen-Thomas said she has not seen a decrease in the number of students studying at the college-level to become bilingual educators.

Though he supports mandatory foreign language classes, Hubbell acknowledges that students cannot become fluent solely by learning a language in the classroom.

"In order to become really proficient, you have to be in a setting where you can't use English as a crutch," said Hubbell, who studied abroad in Mexico while in college. "If I didn't know a word, I'd have to fumble around and use another word or describe it. Having to think on your feet makes a big difference."

Jenks estimated that it takes five to seven years of studying a language to truly become proficient in it.

In addition to helping students better understand their native languages, Hansen-Thomas also argues bilingualism prepares American students to compete in the global market.

"Learning other languages makes us that stronger," Hansen-Thomas said.

Jenks expressed similar thoughts.

"The data shows students who speak more than one language are by far surpassing monolingual students. In Europe, not only do they know their native language, but they also learn a second or third language," Jenks said.

Many students spoke in favor of mandatory foreign language classes.

"It's helped me out a lot," said Eli Banda, 16, a junior in Hubbell's Spanish II class.

Eli, who said his family spoke Spanish around him growing up but never took the time to teach him the language, said he previously felt out the loop because of his inability to communicate with them.

"Now, I understand what they say," he said.

Other students support mandatory foreign classes because of the impact they could have on their futures.

With plans to become a doctor, Alyssa Villarreal, 15, knows Spanish will come in handy.

"I would rather speak to my patient in my own words than having someone else telling them in their words," said Alyssa, a sophomore in Hubbell's class.

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