Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Me Washa la Mano

Thank you, readers for making this blog such a success.  This weekend we hit a major milestone – one thousand page views!

Last week’s conference was a wonderful success. For those of us that attended, it was a time of professional rejuvenation, reconnecting with old friends, and meeting new colleagues.  For those of you outside of Illinois, I am referring to the 35th Annual Statewide Conference for Teachers Serving Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students (aka the bilingual conference) that is held annually in Oak Brook, Illinois.  It is a four day conference with local, national and international speakers.  This year, more than 3,000 educators attended over the course of the week. 

This was the first year that I did four presentations.  Needless to say, I was very busy and simply ran out of time to blog.  But don’t fear, I have taken copious notes and am looking forward to sharing what I learned with you. First, let me share with you the highlights of the opening keynote address from Else Hamayan, director emeritus of the Illinois Resource Center.  Her talk was titled “Me washa la mano! Debunking some myths about early childhood bilingualism.”
Photo courtesy of Josie Yanguas, IRC

Dr. Hamayan started by saying that many people believe that it isn’t beneficial, and may even be harmful, for children to grow up with two or three languages.  She reminded the room of educators that what we believe is important because it impacts how we teach our students. In all, Dr. Hamayan debunked a number of common myths about young bilingual children.  I’ll share my two favorites with you.

Myth #1 – The monolingual brain
Dr. Hamayan stated, “nearly half of the world’s population is functionally bilingual.”  In other words,
it is normal for people to learn two, three or even four different languages.  She quoted a number of experts including Kuhl, Garcia-Sierra and BialystokUltimately, she drew the conclusion that “a bilingual brain is not only possible, it is desirable!”

Myth #2 - Code mixing is a sign of something bad happening
“Me washa la mano!” This is an example of code mixing, also known as code-switching.  In a nutshell, code mixing is evidence of cross-linguistic transfer.  When a bilingual person uses specific knowledge and skills from one language in their other language, it is cross-linguistic transfer.  It is a very valuable skill that bilinguals use to help figure out the meaning of new words or phrases. Dr. Hamayan reminded her audience that, “when students make a ‘mistake’ that is the result of transfer, it is important to view it as an indication of students’ resourcefulness.” As teachers, we can use our students’ ability to transfer knowledge between their languages to help our students attack unknown words and look for cognates.  Read more on Dr. Jill Kerper-Mora’s website, and Kathy Escamilla’s wonderful article “Bilingual Means Two: Assessment Issues, Early Literacy and Spanish-speaking Children.”   In short, Dr. Hamayan stated "code mixing is not only normal, it shows the use of good learning behaviors."

Dr. Hamayan ended her keynote by telling her audience that we cannot “washa la mano” of these myths.  Rather, as educators of linguistically and culturally diverse children, we need to base our pedagogical decisions on sound research and experience, collect classroom-based data to use as additional sources of information and tirelessly advocate for our students. 

Written by: Tammy King

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the quick summary of some of Dr. Hamayan's myths re early childhood bilingualism.