Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I Say Tomato, You Say Something in Farsi

Ace ed reporter for the Spokesman Sara Leaming did an article on ESL instruction in District 81. The neat thing about it was the breakdown of the various native languages of the kids who participate in the district’s English Language Development program, represented in number of students:

  • 332 Russian
  • 147 Spanish
  • 92 Marshallese
  • 68 Vietnamese
  • 42 Hmong
  • 30 Bosnian
  • 26 Ukrainian
  • 19 Arabic
  • 17 Moldovan
  • 16 Chuukese (Micronesia)
  • 13 Mandarin
  • 11 Somali
  • 10 Punjabi
  • 9 Turkish
  • 8 Pashto, Serbian
  • 7 Amharic (Ethiopia), Farsi, Korean, and Swahili
  • 6 Belarusian
  • 5 Karen (Burmese), Tagalog (Phillippines), and Laotian
  • 4 Albanian and Mandarin
  • 3 Creole
  • 2 Cantonese, Romanian, and Haitian
  • 1 Anuak (Sudan/Ethiopia), Azerbaijani, Bisaya and Cebuano (Phillippines), Burmese, Ethiopian, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Kirghiz, Krahn (Liberia), Rwandan, Tamil (India), and Thai.


The big surprise on that list to me is that Russian is the number one language ahead of Spanish. Granted, Spokane doesn’t have the agricultural opportunities that Yakima or the Tri-Cities do, but to be outpaced by Russian at a great that 2:1 ratio is something that I wouldn’t have guessed. It’s also a neat surprise to me to see 16 Chuukee kids on the list; I had a native Chuuk speaker in my room a couple of years ago (his mom married into the Air Force), and he was the first we’d ever had in my district.

You can find the whole article below.


Connecting parents and teachers
With dozens of languages in district, translators are key


Ukrainian immigrant Ivanna Malko was glad to have an interpreter at her side Monday during her son's parent-teacher conference at Whitman Elementary School.

With the help of Vera Puzankova, a Russian bilingual specialist for Spokane Public Schools, Malko learned that her fifth-grader, Paul Malko, writes well, struggles a little with science, and ran a mile in seven minutes.

While Paul speaks English fluently, his mother speaks very little.

"At home I only speak Ukraine," Paul said.

The Malkos are among the families in Spokane schools whose first language is not English and who need help with translation during parent-teacher conferences, which began last week and continue this week.

There are 1,300 bilingual students in Spokane schools, speaking more than 44 languages, district officials said. Among those students are more than 900 still learning English.

Under federal law, the district must provide interpreters or other language help "to the extent practicable," said Howard De Leeuw, director of English Language Development for Spokane schools.

With so many cultural backgrounds and languages, officials said it can be a challenge to provide bilingual specialists for each one-on-one parent-teacher conference. Without an interpreter, non-English-speaking parents may feel left out of important decisions.


"No one knows the child better than the parent," said De Leeuw. "It's very difficult if the parent can't truly express concerns in their own language."

District interpreters, called bilingual specialists, work the twice-yearly parent conferences and help students throughout the school year. According to the recommended budget for the 2006-07 school years, the district will receive just over $900,000 in transitional bilingual and limited English proficiency funds from the state and federal governments, and will spend about $2.4 million.

This year the district subscribed to a telephone service that connects teachers with interpreters via teleconference, so teachers can tap into 170 languages. The state pays for the subscription, but the district pays for calls, at $1.10 a minute.

More often, the district seeks out bilingual individuals who may be able to speak uncommon dialects such as Chuukese, a language from Micronesia, or Marshallese, of the Marshall Islands.

One Marshallese language specialist now serves more than 90 children in Spokane schools, district officials said. That compares with 15 Russian-speaking bilingual specialists.

There are also small numbers of refugees and immigrants who speak languages including Azerbaijani; Krahn, a dialect from Liberia; and Kirghiz, the language of Kyrgyzstan.

In rare cases, family members bring their own interpreters – usually family or friends, though that is discouraged.

The district would rather have someone translating who understands education and can break down complex topics, such as the state standardized test known as the WASL, said Amy Berube, an English language development teacher at Whitman, who helps organize dozens of bilingual parent-teacher conferences twice each year.

"Academic language is so much different than social language," Berube said.

Schools also try to learn more about different cultures and what life was like in their native countries.

"We need to be sensitive to their culture, where they are coming from, and we need to help them understand the expectations from the American culture as well," said Linda Unseth, Northwest regional director of World Relief, a network of church-based groups that helps resettle refugees from around the world. The group sometimes helps locate interpreters for schools.

"It's empowering for the parent when they can express what they are thinking in their own language," De Leeuw said.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ace ed reporter"

Odd, for most newspapers give the education beat to their newest folks with the least experience. Sometimes that translates to enthusiatic efforts, but often it results in a overly-strong desire to please and a poor-functioning "BS meter."

jl

2:05 PM  
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5:16 AM  

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