Archive for January, 2010

Honoring Martin Luther King

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, a day to honor the legacy of social justice and racial equality espoused by Martin Luther King Jr. MLK’s theories are some of the foundation behind my commitment to provide access to quality bilingual education programs to Spanish speakers as well as native English speakers.

One bilingual program designed to integrate students of varying language, ethnic and racial groups is the Dual Immersion program. Dual Immersion programs integrate students with the goal of creating bilingualism and biliteracy in both language groups, as well as fostering cross-cultural respect and appreciation. Maybe if we continue to provide high quality Dual Immersion programs Martin Luther King’s dream of a more integrated and equality-driven society will be fulfilled.

Today I found the Martin Luther King speech “I Have a Dream” in Spanish. If you are a bilingual teacher, I think that it would be wonderful to also read the speech in Spanish. You can find the speech by clicking here.

I also found some really inspiring MLK speeches that can be immediately downloaded from Amazon and will download into either your itunes or media player. You can find them by clicking here. I wish that when I was in school, that one of my teachers would have played actual speeches from Martin Luther King, because in my opinion he is one of the greatest and most inspirational speakers that I have ever seen.

Keep up the good fight for quality bilingual education programs as well as effective instruction for diverse students!

Categories: Uncategorized

Spanglishbaby “Ask an Expert” Series

I’m excited to announce that I am one of the experts on! This week I wrote a response to a question that a parent had about which type of language immersion program that she should choose for her children. You can find the post by clicking here. There are a number of other experts on various issues who answer questions on a weekly basis. is an online resource and community for parents who are raising bilingual and bi-cultural children. They have excellent resources for parents, and bilingual teachers might also find much of the information on the site to be very useful. When you have a chance, head on over there and check it out!

Categories: Bilingual Education

What’s Really Behind the Language Interference Myth?

January 14, 2010 3 comments

I reject the entire concept of “language interference”. For those of you who might not have heard about “language interference”, it is a pervasive myth that continues to be perpetuated about how students’ primary language interferes with their acquisition of English. For example, if a Spanish speaker makes an error, pronouncing the “j” as an “h” sound in English, many people would say that this is “negative interference” or “negative transfer” caused by the student’s primary language as it is applied to English. [Note: the Spanish j makes the English h sound].

When native English speakers learn to read and write, they don’t automatically begin to spell, read and pronounce correctly. They don’t use spelling patterns correctly, they are unable to decode certain vowel patterns when they first start to read, and they begin to use invented spelling by spelling words out the way that they sound. Yet we never hear that their oral language development is negatively interfering with their written language or reading. The experts tell us that all of these supposed errors are developmentally appropriate for English speakers in the natural process of acquiring a first language.

On the other hand, the myth of language interference is constantly discussed as it applies to students who are learning English. When students make errors in pronunciation, reading, writing or spelling, many people automatically discuss the concept of language interference, stating that students make such errors in English as a result of the interference that is being caused by their primary language. Why is it that it is a natural and developmental process when native English speakers make errors as they are learning English, but it is “language interference” when second language learners make the very same mistakes as they are acquiring a second language??

I’ve heard so many of the following types of comments, “He can’t spell in English because he writes in English by using Spanish phonics. Spanish is causing interference”.

Or I’ve heard, “As a result of language interference, Spanish speaking children have difficulty with pronouncing and spelling the sh, th, and other sounds”.

Might I remind everyone that native English speakers don’t automatically start spelling accurately as soon as they come out of the womb? I’ve also encountered native English speakers who make many of the same errors in pronunciation when they are very young and are acquiring their first language.

I have yet to have heard someone attribute language interference to the errors a native English speaking child makes when acquiring Spanish as a second language. I sometimes hear, “Johnny makes errors in Spanish grammar because he is a beginning Spanish learner. When he says ‘yo no lo hiciste’ instead of the accurate ‘yo no lo hice’, it’s because he is at the beginning stage of learning Spanish and with time, exposure, and effective instruction he will begin to have more consistent use of grammar”. Why aren’t we blaming English for negatively interfering with Spanish?

Don’t you see a discrepancy and double standard here? It’s okay for native English speakers to make developmental mistakes, but not bilingual learners?

The entire concept of language interference is a pervasive myth that in my opinion is primarily directed towards Spanish speaking children who are learning English. Do we often hear that French is negatively interfering with students’ acquisition of English? Probably not. In fact, we are probably more likely to hear someone say, “Oh wow, he speaks with a beautiful french accent when he speaks English.” I’ve yet to have heard someone accuse the french language as negatively interfering with English acquisition. Perhaps this is because french often is perceived as a higher status by many people?

This myth continues to be perpetuated about students and you will find it everywhere, with some of the most prominent bilingual education advocates perpetuating the myth.

In my view, there is something much more behind this whole notion of language interference. In essence, it is a myth that was designed to put a negative spin on Spanish and other politically volatile minority languages, insinuating that Spanish is causing a deficit in the acquisition of English. This myth is a remnant of the days when people perceived bilingualism as a problem, causing mental retardation, confusion and difficulty. The language interference myth has been perpetuated for so many years and by so many people that many people believe it and have never examined the underlying assumptions behind it. The myth has seeped into college classes, as well as teacher training and testing for teaching authorizations as in the case of the California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) test.

Please remember that most of the errors that second language learners make when they are learning a second language are similar to many of the same errors that native English speakers make when they are acquiring English. This is a developmental issue, not an interference issue. With effective instruction and practice of the language, many of the so-called errors that students make will begin to disappear. If students continue to make the same errors year after year, then it has nothing to do with their primary language and has more to do with the fact that they have had ineffective instruction.

The next time that you or someone else talks about language interference, think about what is covertly being insinuated: Spanish is a deficit and causes problems when learning English. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to perpetuate that message.

Categories: Bilingual Education

Top Ten Posts of Last Year

Categories: Uncategorized

Online Math Support Resources

When I taught the fifth and the sixth grade, it was always hard for me to teach math because I hadn’t taken a math class since I was in high school. In high school I had taken a math advanced placement class that gave me college credit for math. It was always very difficult for me to teach many advanced math concepts because it had been a significant amount of time since I had taken math class.

I remember that many of my students’ parents would express similar frustrations with assisting their children with math. I tried my best to provide resources for the parents that might help them. These were the days before you could find anything and everything on the internet, and now parents have the luxury to turn to the internet for online math help in the event that they are unable to help their children.

Today I discovered Guaranteach, an online tutoring site that provides assistance and math help to students. They have a variety of videos for students or parents to use to clarify difficult mathematical concepts. The cost per month is $9.95 and they are also featuring a free trial option. Head on over there and check out the free fractions videos, as well as information about algebra help and algebra tutoring.

Categories: Uncategorized

Secret Diary of a Bilingual Educator: Linguistic Discrimination in the Schoolhouse

January 6, 2010 3 comments

I can still remember the days when I was a bilingual teacher and I would sit in the staff lounge during my breaks or lunch. There were times when one or two of us would occasionally speak in Spanish to one another when we were walking in and out of the room. It would be an understatement to say that many of the teachers did not approve of us using Spanish.

It’s not as if we lived in some podunk town where people were unaccustomed to diversity. In fact, worked in a large urban school district in Southern California where the majority of the student population was black and latino. Approximately ninety percent of our students were latino, with approximately forty percent  being classified as English learners. One third of the students were in either a Dual Immersion program or a transitional bilingual education program and we were one of the largest bilingual schools in the district-probably even the whole county.

I can still remember one day vividly when I was chastised for speaking Spanish by another teacher in the staff lounge. It was recess and I walked into the staff lounge to buy a soda. There were about five teachers sitting on the opposite side of the room talking to one another. I walked into the room, but as soon as I put money into the machine I dropped a dime that quickly rolled underneath the machine.

Suddenly one of the bilingual kindergarten teachers walked into the room. -¿Tienes diez centavos?- I asked the teacher. He pulled out ten cents and gave it to me.

One of the teachers on the other side of the room suddenly shouted out, “Speak English! This is America”. I was in shock and was so insulted that I couldn’t even open my mouth. I just stood there in shock, not believing that someone had just yelled at me. Those were the days when I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and rarely said anything when other people made racist or inappropriate comments because I didn’t know what to say.

I’ve heard that worn out argument that some people think that it is “rude” when people speak another language in front of them, so I am hypothesizing that maybe the teacher who yelled at me felt a similar sentiment. What do I have to say about that? Here’s my thought: She should have just minded her own darn business. Maybe if she wasn’t so busy listening to my personal conversation on the other side of the room she wouldn’t have even noticed that I was speaking another language.

Now it’s over ten years later and if I could do it all again I would have given her a big piece of my mind. I would have said, “I have the right to engage in personal conversations during my break time in whichever language I choose. If you are uncomfortable with it, then I suggest you don’t listen to my conversation, or you can study Spanish”. And then I would have walked out the door with a grand exit.

I’m just waiting for that day when someone at work tells me something like that again because I would really love to give them a piece of my mind. I suspect that since I grew into a more opinionated woman that many people might not even have the nerve to tell me something like that again because they know that they won’t get away with it. (Plus, it helps being a manager).

In the meantime, if any of this happens to those of you who are bilingual teachers, maybe you can steal my lines and get in a few jabs for me.  And make sure you pat yourself on the back when you are finished.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do?

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

Categories: Bilingual Education

New Year Updates

I haven’t blogged much over the holiday season and am just getting back into the swing of things. In my last post I mentioned that I have been spending time working on my English language development (ELD) site because many bilingual teachers have been asking for assistance with English language development. Hopefully the site will also help Mainstream teachers with providing effective English language development.

ELD is an important component to all bilingual programs, because bilingual programs are BILINGUAL! I’ve seen all varieties of bilingual programs-some have high levels of Spanish and low levels of English, some have high levels of English and low levels of Spanish, and many other variations. So, I’ve decided that at least once a week I am going to have a post on English language development, or at least point you over to some of the posts that I have been working for on the other website.

I also wanted to keep you updated on a few things that I am really excited about! First off, I am going to be an “Ask an Expert” on Spanglishbaby and I am really excited about it! This week I am working on my very first post for them, and I will keep you updated. You have no idea how excited I am about this because I really look up to Ana and Roxana, the founders of the site. I am so honored that they are putting me on their list of experts. Stay tuned!

One more thing that I am really excited about is that I am going to be a contributing author on a Spanish as a foreign language program for elementary students through Santillana. Well, I am “almost” going to be a contributing author and I am not going to believe it until that contract is signed. So keep your fingers crossed for me! I should know more by the end of the week.

For the next week or so, I will only be posting about twice a week because I really want to sit down for the new year and brainstorm the topics that I would like to blog about on Multilingual Mania. It’s my new year goal to have a little consistency to what I will be doing each week. So stay tuned for that as well! Please stay patient as I am working my heart out on my huge project that I am doing over at, and I eventually have plans to create a similar website about building biliteracy. It’s been taking so much work to write each page and format everything.

See you soon and thank you for stopping by!

Categories: Bilingual Education