Hahna recently turned big 5 and therefore it’s time for my semi-annual update about her language skills. From now on I am also going to be including her little sister Ava, since she is almost two (21 months), and her fun-loving personality is starting to come out (including her bilingual skills).
The first exciting thing I want to mention is that they are bravely keeping up with the rule #1 which is ‘we speak Czech when only mom (or Czech tetas) is around’. They really do! They talk and talk and talk and even when I am in another room they talk Czech. Hahna is teaching Ava Czech words and making her repeat them. Thanks to her chattering busy sister, Ava’s language skills are well above her average. Every morning Ava says: “Mami pisla (Mommy came)!”. Or “Ci bonbonty (I want candy)”. Or “Co to bylo? (What was that?)”, “Co to je?” (‘What is that?’), ‘Ja ci videt’ (I want to see) and so forth. But when daddy or grandma are around they both ‘magically’ switch into English – even Ava! It’s truly amazing.
Not very long ago, Ava’s vocabulary created a funny situation. About a month ago, I was playing only with Ava, while Hahna was in the other room. Once Hahna’s eagle eyes spotted it she came in and wanted to play with us too. The girls, however are a bit jealous of their ‘mommy and me’ time and Ava got a bit flustered. She hit Hahna and said “Bitch!”. I was appalled! What did she just say?? Where did she hear that word??? But then I thought twice about it and I realized she is saying ‘pyc’ meaning ‘pryc’ (= ‘away’ like ‘go away’) only in her toddler language it sounded like the ‘B’ word.
One difficult situation we are dealing with, however, is her school. She started kindergarten in August and her class is over 2/3 Hispanic. That is not uncommon in California, however, what is concerning is most of these Hispanic kids do not speak English. Before she started going to school we had a meeting with the principal and she assured us that the ethnic group ratio is quite even. Well, what we did not realize is that one of the close by elementary schools was shut down because it was underperforming (most kids were Hispanic and did not speak much English therefore their grades were bad) and all of those students went to Hahna’s school.
You see we are all for diversity but once one Ethnic group dominates AND does not speak English then we are not talking about integration but isolation. Hahna only has a handful of kids that she can speak to since she does not speak Spanish (and I am sure there is not another child that speaks Czech . The teacher struggles explaining the tasks in class in English because most kids don’t get what she is saying and I have seen her speak Spanish just for that particular reason.
I am going to volunteer in class every week (starting next week) for about a hour and half and absorb the situation. How many kids exactly don’t speak English? How much does the teacher speak Spanish? Are the English-speaking children bored? Is there a chaos in the class? I have been also looking into the charter school system which looks very promising…but very overcrowded. One popular charter school in particular had 49 (!!) kids on the waiting list for kindergarten!!!!
It is a shame that parents have to go through this. I feel for the Hispanic kids, I mean, their parents don’t speak English and although there are many government-funded after-school tutorial programs they can’t do possibly do all the work – the parents have to help! Also, the school system should not concentrate on the n0n-English speakers; the English-speaking kids should be their priority and that does not seem the case. I am worried because Hahna already is bilingual and needs to strengthen her English skills. I don’t mind her learnig yet another language, in fact that would be wonderful, however only AFTER she perfects her English. Does that makes sense?
I just don’t understand why the school does not divide them into two groups at the beginning, one being the ESL group and the other one being the English-speaking group, and merge them together until the ESL group learns to speak English. Something needs to be done or all of the public, non-charter schools will get shut down for low performance.
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