Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Does English immersion leave some children of immigrants in 'linguistic isolation?'

A Fronteras Project piece on KPCC today follows a Los Angeles first grader who speaks English, Spanish, and Kanjobal, a Mayan language - but doesn't speak any of them well.

Why? The little girl, Andrea, has had several years of English immersion classes. But with her English speaking limited to the classroom, and her time speaking Spanish and Kanjobal limited to what she spends with her parents, both of whom work very long hours, she's unable to get the foundation that she needs in order to master any one language. From the piece:

This lack of linguistic foundation is surprisingly common for many kids in L.A. A lot of it has to do with the fact that these children use different languages at home, at school and in their neighborhood.

For example, Andrea uses Spanish or Kanjobal with her parents, but both of them work too much to give her a solid foundation in either language.

In the neighborhood where Andrea lives, signs are in a mix of Spanish and English. They say things like "Mucho Bargain" and "Regalos para Baby Shower."

And at school, Andrea is almost exclusively around other kids learning English. They all mainly mimic the broken English they hear around them.

UCLA professor Patricia Gandara says this stems from "linguistic isolation."

"The children can grow up their entire lives never really hearing English spoken by a native English speaker," notes Gandara.

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