Teaching Profession

Teaching Standard English While Embracing Dialect Diversity

By Francesca Duffy — May 24, 2012 1 min read

The growing numbers of second-generation Latino students attending U.S. schools pose new challenges for teachers, according to a Fox News Latino report. These students are often fluent in English but use speech infused with Spanish accents, rhythm, and usage that they pick up in their Latino communities. By the same token, they struggle with the standard English that is generally needed to perform well on standardized tests and other school assignments.

Fox News Latino cites a study conducted in Texas that looked at ways to raise these students’ competency in standard English. Linguists who worked on the study argue that students will learn standard English best if teachers are trained in dialect and language diversity, and embrace their students’ individual identities, rather than treat a student’s dialect and speech as incorrect.

“There is this thinking that all we need to do is push standard English all the time,” said linguist Jeffrey Reaser, who co-authored the Texas study. “What we see is that approach does not work because it doesn’t take into account the cultural background and individual identity. It is a flawed ideal but it seems that is the common sense.”

A more inclusive strategy is currently being used in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Academic English Mastery Program. Students in the program are taught that the rules of speech are different depending on whether they are using language at home or for academic purposes. “Students are more receptive to this method, academics say, because there is no value placed on either dialect, but an acknowledgement that there is a difference,” according to the Fox story.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.