Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blog # 7 What Are You Sinking About?

Think or sink?  This is one of the common mistakes of pronouncing a foreign language word: replacing an unfamiliar sound with a familiar sound of one’s first language.  Some English learners from China may have the same problem, because we don’t have a th sound in Chinese, you may have heard Chinese learners say Sank you instead of Thank you. 
As a long-term English learner, I would say speaking is one of the hardest parts for many Chinese learners.  Back the time I started learning English, the predominant approach to instruction was grammar-translation, reading and writing were the focus of teaching.  Not until college did we have native speakers to teach us Spoken and Listening.  But the gap between students’ writing and speaking proficiency had been long-existing and hard to be changed.  So, opposite to the common belief that English learners would grasp daily communication skills before they reach academic language level, Chinese learners seem to reverse the 2 phases. A good example would be my husband: he has no problem conducting research and publishing scientific papers in English journals, but when it comes to daily conversations and phone calls, he is not as skilled as in written English. He is also very self-conscious of his accent, and dubs his English “Yunglish”, because he was born in Yunnan China.
Another problem that frustrates English learners, is the difference between the textbook language and the authentic language spoken by the native speakers. We learned words such as wonderful, excellent, great, terrific, amazing, perfect in China, only to found Americans are actually saying awesome!  Slangs, idioms and phrasal verbs could be confusing too.  Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi, depicted a real story in which she and her mother went to supermarket in searching for “elbow grease”, because the American repairman who fixed their washing machine recommended in using it to remove the stain on the floor. 
Learning a second language is a long and twisted path.  When my Chinese and English are fighting in my brain, my tongue and teeth are fighting in my mouth, I couldn’t help lamenting when my English will be the same proficient as my Chinese, and when can I talk as fast and laugh as hard as my American classmates do!
I am thinking, and do not want to be sinking!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blog # 6 My Book Choice

Up Close Media Queen:  Oprah Winfrey, A Twentieth-Century Life, by Ilene Cooper, provides an intimate portrait of Oprah Winfrey’s life and a rare, comprehensive history of an American icon.  I believe this book is related to our diversity topics in the following 3 aspects:
1.  Race and Ethnicity.  In 1954, when Oprah was born, her hometown Mississippi was among the most segregated places in the United States, even drinking fountains and bathrooms were divided by race, so were schools.  The same year, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v. Board of Education and opened the way to integrated schools.  The civil rights movement and the way the society had been evolving in the following 20 years benefited Oprah: she was offered a scholarship and went to a integrated high school and college, she won the opportunity to work as a TV reporter, which was mostly a man’s profession - a white man’s profession.  Oprah said she was “born at the right time”, because her success was based on the social trend that minority groups were being included by the main stream society.
2.  Gender.  Oprah was sexually abused when she was young; she had her first child at age 14(the baby only lived for 2 weeks). Her own experience made the grown-up Oprah actively involved in programs that help abused children and train young girls to be the future leaders. One of the things Oprah had in common with many women was a battle with weight:  she honestly talked about her dieting in her shows and shared her pains and sorrows as an overweight woman.  This society has been putting too much emphasis on people’s orthopedic characteristics, especially on women’s physical beauty.  In order to be “perfect”, women are putting up with increasing pressures.
3.  Socioeconomic Status.  A black girl born in a farm in the 1950’s, parents never got married, spent early years helping grandma with heavy laundries, Oprah was definitely born in a low SES class.  However, she held a firm belief in herself: she believed she “belongs to someone or something bigger”, and she “could do anything”.  Her grandma taught her read and found her gift in speaking, Oprah herself at first considered speaking a means of getting attention and love, but later realized it was this belief that triggered all the changes in her later life. What should be learned by all the parents around the world is, an early exposure to literacy, a strong belief of “I can”, plus complete and formal education, would help the children achieve in the future.
The life of Oprah Winfrey is a reflection of American’s diversity. Her story of success exemplifies America’s can-do spirit and the best of its humanitarian impulses.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blog # 5 To Be "Included" or Not, That Is the Question.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 19.4% of all Americans are affected by some form of disability. Among the population with disability, people over 65 years old, African Americans, single parent families, and low-income families are more likely to become victims of disability.  As a reflection in school settings, 12% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with some type of disability. 
“Inclusion” means that students with disabilities have a right to be integrated into general education classes regardless of their ability to meet “traditional” academic standards.  Although not required by the Federal special education law (IDEA), “inclusion” has been frequently discussed by educators and parents of disabled children. Inclusion has its roots in the belief that segregating students with disability from general education classes, is same as segregating African American students from “white” schools, thus is morally and ethically wrong.
However, there are some issues and concerns related to full inclusion, such as “Are all children with disabilities feasible for inclusion, regardless of the types and degrees of their disabilities?” “What impact will inclusion have on nondisabled children?” “Are general classroom teachers prepared to provide appropriate instructional services to those children with special needs?”
I sometimes listen to “The Long Lost Love” at FM103.7, in which a detective would help people find out where their long lost love ended up today.  One morning, a lady called in, instead of a “long lost love”, she wanted to find out a “long lost bully” who had been harassed her from 1st grade to high school.  This lady was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which made her the laughing stock of the bully. The trauma was so intense both in degree and length, that years after graduating from high school, the lady would had nightmares of being bullied again and woke up in panic in the midnight.  The bully was found ended up in jail, which was not a surprise.  But one question hovering in my mind was, why the girl (and her parents) didn’t try to avoid the bully by going to a different school, or special education school/program? Maybe back then, children like her did not have other choices except for going to a public school and put up with the possible side effects of “inclusion”, which could sarcastically turned into a trend 20 years later.  I wonder how this lady would comment on "inclusion".
Should children with disability be included or excluded?  First, it depends on the types and degrees of their disabilities.  Second, it depends on the children’s needs and parents' choices. While some parents of disabled children consider “inclusion” as desirable, others may rather choose being excluded from normal school settings and turn to special education, where the children with disability could be better protected from harm, get full attention from their teachers, who are also supposed to have received special trainings on teaching these children.  What education agencies, administrators and educators should do, is to make sure all children with disability have the right and freedom to make their own choices based on their own needs.