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A recent letter really made me see red. The writer speaks as one who "has some expertise in the field of bilingual education." I speak as an immigrant and a graduate of the "sink or swim" method of education.

I strongly disagree with the writer's reasoning as to why some students are able to learn "language by osmosis."

As a general rule, how does any child learn a language if not by "osmosis" -- that is, by listening to parents, siblings and playmates?

The writer claims that most students who can learn this way come from upper socioeconomic classes. When my family and I came to the United States in 1949, my father worked as a farm laborer and later in a factory, and my mother pitched in as a cleaning woman. The writer says such students come from an educationally enriched background. My enrichment came from surviving a hand-to-mouth existence as a refugee in the war-ravaged Europe of the 1940s.

My individualized instruction consisted of one informal 15-minute session with a teacher who was curious to know if I knew any English. This encounter resulted in my being put back a grade to give me a chance to "catch up."

From that point on, I sat in class, picked up my pencil when the other students did, opened my books when they did, and in one year's time, learned enough English to be advanced two grade levels and to act as my parents' translator in their dealings with officialdom.

Meanwhile, just by doing the things people do to survive, my parents achieved some financial stability and gained enough proficiency in English to pass the test to become U.S. citizens.

A recent article about the family of 11 that after four years in this country has only one member who can speak enough English to respond to an interview is a perfect example of the "gains" made by teaching English as a second language.

If we live in this country and accept its bounty, English should be our first language. To treat it as anything but that is a disservice both to our nation and to the teeming masses we claim to welcome.


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