Advanced Essay #2: A Bilingual Education


My newest advanced essay revolved around being bilingual and its impact in my life and its benefits to modern education. As it stands, there is a bill currently that would implement a English-only system in Pennsylvania. Skills I focused on in my paper were understanding. Because my situation was very unique I really worked on the skill of having you feel like you were there with me. Another skill I wanted to work on was improving my grammar. Overall, I have good grammar but it can always improve. A part of my piece I’m proud of is having the courage to write about being bilingual and my past that relates to my education. I’ve always avoided writing about my previous education but I’m glad I started now. I plan to become more of a creative writer who can improve on editing. I think the skill in seeing your flaws in writing is very important, and I’d love to acquire it.

In September 2015, members of the Pennsylvania Legislature issued an “English Only” legislation, Bill 1506. Currently, 31 US states have similar legislation. The bill would require all state and local government business to be conducted in English. Some are against this bill, like opinion writer Charlie Deitch who says “It’s hard to make meaningful gains in government when most of the time is spent parsing crap legislation meant to appease the citizenry sitting with closed minds.” As a child, I was born into a bilingual home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both my parents were born in Nicaragua, a multilingual but predominantly Spanish speaking country. My mother grew up in the United States and does not speak fluent Spanish. Her parents spoke Spanish but did not teach their children. My father lived in Nicaragua until he was 27;  he speaks Miskito, Creole English and Spanish. As a child, I primarily learned one language, English. My mother would say a few words in Spanish. My father prefered Creole English and Miskito to Spanish.  Then, when I was five years old, I was enrolled at Independence Charter School, a school with a bilingual program so I would become fluent in Spanish. Some members of the  Pennsylvania Legislature apparently fear multilingualism and multiculturalism. My story should alleviate their fears.

From kindergarten through fifth grade, I spent 80 - 90% of my school day learning in Spanish. Besides Spanish Language Arts, math, science and social studies were in Spanish. I had one period a day of English. For example, I learned the world's’ countries in Spanish. I never knew Switzerland, England or Belgium. I knew them as Suiza, Inglaterra and Bélgica. Math operations were la adición, división, multiplicación, and resta or subtracción. Classes had a “Spanish only rule.” You couldn’t speak English in classes;  if we have something to say, it had to be in Spanish. What I learned in Spanish in third grade, SLA students learn in Spanish II.

Despite the challenge of learning in a second language, I enjoyed learning in Spanish.  Most of my teachers were Latina and born in Spanish speaking countries. They spoke Spanish from birth. I learned proper pronunciation. In addition, they exposed us to their cultural traditions. This helped me embrace my heritage. Because of my physical appearance, especially my freckles, most people assume I am only white. But when I learned Spanish, I gained the confidence to embrace and love my complex heritage.

When I started middle school, the language demands increased. Now, math and science were in English. Only Spanish Language Arts and social studies were in Spanish. It was difficult and frustrating to shift and learn new information in English.  I had to learn more new vocabulary in a month than I had in five years. I almost lost five years of Spanish to a month of confusion. I wasn’t alone; many of us found learning math and science in English challenging. I learned to say “integers and acute” instead of “agudo y enteros”  and “DNA and ecosystem” instead of “ADN  y ecosistema.” In addition, my ADHD made it difficult to focus. There was also enormous pressure to have high grades and test scores to get into a magnet high school.

Nevertheless, while being bilingual has its perks, it made the infamous PSSA’s, extremely stressful.  The PSSA’s are the standardized test in Pennsylvania; high test scores are required to enroll into a favorable high school. The tests are in English. The teachers couldn’t help me during the test. No definition of terms. No explanation of a math  concept I had learned in Spanish but could not explain in English. The only thing my teacher could say was “try your best!” This response instilled more fear. This is when I realized my education was partially flawed.

A bilingual education made standardized testing very stressful because I was not fully prepared in English but there were significant benefits. Since entering high school, I have become a more confident student. Many of my peers from the immersion or bilingual program are succeeding in quality schools. My complicated heritage and bilingualism have made me a more insightful and creative student, rather than a textbook student. I believe I have the skills and drive to succeed.

While bilingualism assists my learning in school and is a bridge with my family, there are many other benefits to being bilingual. Being bilingual is a skill that will always be in demand in the work force. I learned from teachers, parents and extended family who see and experience life through many different lens.  Whether the Pennsylvania Legislators who support “English only” like it or not, by 2050 less than half of the United States will be of European descent.

Apparently, some members of the Pennsylvania legislature want to deny Pennsylvanians who either do not speak English or prefer another language second class citizenship. Many other countries encourage bilingualism or multilingualism, far too many people in the U.S. fear bilingualism and want to legislate against it. The bill has reached some support. The bill's’ authors suggests “Bill 1506 is meant to bring the country together under one language.” The bill will do nothing but hold our language skills back. But Although learning in school in my second language was often challenging, I am better student and citizen because of it.  

My bilingual education gave me real world skills to work skills. I had cultural experiences that I would not have had in a monolingual school.  My language skills have given me opportunities that I now appreciate.  A bilingual education is a privilege, not a burden. The proposed “English Only” bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature is grounded in fear and narrow nationalism.  Rather than limit our learning, the Pennsylvania Legislature should encourage bilingualism and cross cultural experiences. Learning in two languages may take a toll on a young learner but the benefits outweigh the initial burden. Rather than promoting “English Only,” the Pennsylvania Legislature should be funding multilingual public education and expanding opportunities for cultural exchange.

Esack, Steve. "English Language Bill Backlash Grows in Capitol." Morning Call. The Morning Call, 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Deitch, Charlie. "The Only Purpose of English-Only Legislation Is to Obstruct the Real Business of Government." Pghcitypaper. Pittsburgh CityPaper, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Barnes, Tom. "Bills Seek to Make English Official Pa. Language." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pitt PG, 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

"Bill Information - House Bill 2132; Regular Session 2013-2014." The Official Website for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Pennsylvania General Assembly, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

"Lawmaker Introduces Bill That Would Make English the Official Language in Pennsylvania." WPMT FOX43. FOX News, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.