You would think that most kids learn to read in their mother tongue. This wasn’t the case for me. Although I was proficient in speaking and understanding Korean, I remember reading in English first rather than in Korean.
Little did I know that the title “international student” would become such a big part of my identity back when I was four. I was attending an all-Korean preschool before my family moved to Taiwan. There, due to the lack of Korean educational institutions, I matriculated to a Chinese kindergarten. My earliest memory of holding onto a book and flipping through the pages of beautiful illustrations was when I was in this “Dalton Kindergarten.” But you could hardly call that reading. My first books were more like a children’s’ art museum translated onto paper.
My first encounter with a book was when I graduated from kindergarten and entered Taipei British School as a first grade student. I remember being pulled out of my class for something called “ESL.” As you all probably know this is the English for Second Language program designed for bilingual students. But at the time, I didn’t know what it was. No one sufficiently explained why I was taken away from my fellow classmates into a separate room with a complete stranger as a teacher.
It was a terrifying experience. The room was smaller and less patronizing than my homeroom. I didn’t know any of the other students nor did I get the opportunity to get to know them. The teacher sat us (there were 3 other students) down and all we did for the entire period was just read, read, read English books. No conversation, no explanation, no creative activities. Granted, my memory isn’t perfect, but I do remember being extremely bored and self-conscious during these sessions. Looking back at the experience, it gives me the impression of a factory producing literate goods.
This got me wondering, what are ESL programs like in the United States? Does the US provide immigrant students with appropriate programs with qualified teachers? Or are U.S. ESL classes just like the one I had in Taiwan?
With at least 800,000 immigrants coming into the US each year (1), I would guess there is an increase in demand for bilingual education throughout the nation. As stated on the United States Census Bureau website, “for the foreign born, fluency in English is associated with greater earnings and occupational mobility (2).” For such English language learners (ELLs), learning English is that much more important for their successful transition into the United States. The question is, are they doing it right?
For subsequent blog posts, I hope to find the answers to my many questions regarding ESL programs and to voice some of the concerns minorities in the US have regarding language education.
Are ESL programs successful?
What are the differences between normal languages classes and ESL classes?
What are the policies behind ESL programs?
What are the pros and cons of such programs?
Are teachers qualified for such special education?
How is it evolving?
How is it implemented in schools?