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Learning English

With debate raging in California over Proposition 227, Tuesday’s ballot initiative that would end most forms of bilingual education, relatively unheard have been the students, those young people whose lives are daily influenced by the education policy decisions made by their elders.

The Times asked students at two Ventura County schools to write about their experiences in learning English and to give their opinions about how it is taught. Here are excerpts from their letters and essays:

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DANIEL VALADEZ, 11th Grade, Moorpark High School

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I came here four years ago without speaking a word of English. It was very hard to communicate with the teachers and students who I worked with in the class.

Thanks to the ELD [English Language Development] program, I have been able to learn English well and to express myself in this country. Without this program I wouldn’t be able to write this letter or express my anger for those people who want to get rid of bilingual programs.

I think back when I first came here, about my dreams and goals. . . . I am learning more English so I can go to college and complete my goals. Without speaking English I wouldn’t be able to.

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MARIA MARTINEZ, 12th Grade, Ventura High School

English is my second language, yet even in classes where teachers speak only in English, I have learned English. I always try to do my best, express my ideas, and try to learn something new every day. I’m trying to show people that I am equal and that I can change not only my life, but also the whole world. Being in a class where most of my classmates speak English has helped me to understand life, nature and also to respect other people’s culture.

It is very difficult to learn English when you only hear it in school. ESL [English as a Second Language] classes helped me to learn the basic language and to always have in mind that I wasn’t alone. I learned to follow my dreams and I feel that I’m equal to the whole world.

I think that our human nature tends to appreciate things when we struggle for them.

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ALBERTO GALINDO, 11th Grade, Moorpark High School

I was in eighth grade when I came to MUSD [Moorpark Unified School District]. They gave me my first-semester classes, but on the same paper they put my second-semester classes. I had a hard time understanding where to go because I didn’t know how to speak English.

It was my third day of school and I still had to follow my schedule on my paper. I went to fifth period, but I went to one of my second-semester classes.

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When I entered the room, I gave my schedule to the teacher. She told the class that [the] class was going to be for my second semester, and she told me that I was wrong. I couldn’t understand so she called the office and asked for a bilingual person to help me. The bilingual person took me to the right class, and he helped me there to understand what was going on.

The ELD program has helped me for 3 years now and I’m very happy. They encourage me to go to college and study for a career. I give thanks to all ELD teachers and counselors.

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ALEJANDRA TELLEZ, 12th Grade, Ventura High School

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Being in a new country is hard enough, and not being able to communicate makes it twice as hard. Feeling welcomed and not afraid to be yourself is what makes a classroom harmonious. Bilingual education is what has helped so many people, like myself, through this hard transition.

As I came into fifth grade I was placed in a bilingual class. . . . One day I walked into the classroom scared and discouraged because I had just been made fun of because of my pronunciation of the number “three.” The teacher did not care how I spoke; she always encouraged me to talk, even when I pronounced all the words wrong. The encouragement and support of the school as a whole is what makes a student succeed.

The task of learning a new language became a privilege and not an obligation. Bilingual education taught me many different strategies that I use to this day. It has helped me to become a future student at Mount St. Mary’s college. Proficient in two languages, I will be able to reach twice the people. A person who knows two languages is worth twice more.

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JUAN VACA, 11th Grade, Moorpark High School

I am 17 years old, and I came to the United States four years ago. When I came I did not know a word of English.

When I started middle school I took Spanish and English classes. When I started high school I started the ELD program.

I think that this program is very good for those who don’t know English. They help us a lot to learn more and more by doing projects and a lot more things. The ELD program has very good teachers. . . . Some of them are bilingual [and they] help us when we don’t understand something in English.

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LUPITA AGUIRRE, 9th Grade, Moorpark High School

I’ve been here for over nine years but I’ve only taken two years of ELD. I feel that the ELD program cares more for our future than the regular program.

I remember when I was in second grade (I wasn’t in the program), the teacher called on me to read, and I wasn’t able to do it, so the teacher said, “I’ll call you again”. “Again” never came. I guess she didn’t care. When I was in sixth grade (I was in ELD), I was called to read, and I said I wasn’t able to do it. Right at that moment, the teacher helped me struggle through the words. After class I was offered help at lunch, before or after school. Of course I went. I got so much help. Now I don’t even struggle through the words. I just let my lips and my brain do all the work.

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If I had the chance to thank them I would. Because without their help I wouldn’t be who I am.

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KARINA GARCIA, 11th Grade, Moorpark High School

When I came to the United States, I didn’t know how to speak English. When I entered first grade, the bilingual teachers helped me because I couldn’t speak and understand English.

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When I came to the United States my second time, I entered 10th grade at Moorpark High School. Thanks to the bilingual teacher, I am getting back the English I had forgotten. If I know what I’m doing, I can have a better life and help others like others have helped me.

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LIBNI SOSA, 9th Grade, Moorpark High School

ELD programs are really helpful. I myself have learned how to achieve my goals. I was an “F” student. My grades were very low. Then I got moved to ELD. I guess it was the best thing that ever happened because my grades are high in all my classes. But the most important thing I learned was how to believe in myself. I believe that self-confidence is the key to everything.

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