Lingual differences hurt learning, LeMoine says
By Claire Groden, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 11, 2011
Students who have learned different English dialects encounter difficulties in their education due to a language gap known as the “deficit perspective,” according to Noma LeMoine, chief executive officer of LeMoine and Associates Educational Consulting. These students, known as “Standard English learners,” should be provided with a bilingual education in order to facilitate their learning experience, LeMoine said in a lecture at the Rockefeller Center on Thursday.
“Standard English learners, I think, are the most over-looked, underserved, misrepresented, miseducated population in American education history,” she said.
Students who speak a different language that has significant English influences and uses an English lexicon often lack the ability to use and understand academic language, according to LeMoine.
“Language is fundamental to learning, and mastery of academic language is critical for accessing the core curriculum in American education institutions,” LeMoine said.
Children who are Standard English learners have trouble succeeding in school, according to LeMoine. American schools do not provide adequate language programs to help these students, LeMoine said.
“Most educational institutions do not recognize this population as language-different,” she said. “When it comes to educators and education institutions, the deficit perspective is alive and well,” she said.
LeMoine argued that Standard English learners should be provided with bilingual education, because while the language these students speak sounds like English, it should be considered a different language, LeMoine said.
“The deficit paradigm in America is that, unfortunately, we view these kids through a deficiency lens,” LeMoine said. “We say that this is a child that has learned English incorrectly, and that is an incorrect statement.”
Students who have learned a different type of English often include Native Americans, African Americans and Mexican Americans, according to LeMoine. In addition, there are approximately 600,000 Hawaiian Americans who do not speak Standard English, but Hawaiian pidgin English, she added.
Because Hawaiians were expected to learn English so quickly without formal education, the English they learned was not the Standard form that many continental Americans speak, according to LeMoine.
“What Hawaiian pidgin English is, is a systematic, rule-governed linguistic system that has many of its rules based in indigenous Hawaiian language, but borrows its lexicon of vocabulary from English,” LeMoine said.
Hawaiian pidgin English developed when the United States acquired Hawaii as a state, forcing “thousands and thousands of people to pick up English basically without school,” LeMoine said.
Although Hawaiian pidgin English is recognized as a distinct language from English, educational systems usually ignore its existence which leads to a student’s inability to learn various subjects, according to LeMoine. Students’ language capabilities are directly connected to their learning capabilities, she said.
Native Americans were also forced to assimilate English into their lives without formal instruction, according to LeMoine. They began speaking “red English,” a Standard English lexicon that incorporates Native American grammar and structure.
Mexican American students speak “Chicano English,” or a language with an English vocabulary and Spanish structure, LeMoine said. When a child who speaks “Chicano English” goes to school, the student tries to speak English but often does so poorly, according to LeMoine.
“There is this expectation that they will be able to speak, read and write in Standard American English,” she said. “This child does not have competence in that, not because they don’t have the ability to learn it, but because they didn’t have the model.”
Mexican American Standard English learners have “not spoken Spanish in three or four generations” and should be differentiated from new immigrants who are just beginning to learn Standard English, LeMoine said.
Some African American children speak “black English,” an English language that incorporates West African influences, according to LeMoine.
“There is a greater negative stigma attached to African-influenced languages in America than there is to your Hawaiian pidgin English, red English and so forth,” LeMoine said. “The deficit perspective is really the explanation.