Wednesday, 21 May 2008

All change for ESL? - US presidential candidates on English as a Second Language issues

Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Candidates in the US presidential race have all taken positions on the English language.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton says English should remain the ‘unofficial spoken language’ but should not become the official language if such a designation would permit all official documents to become English-only, as this would disenfranchise some Chinese who had lived in New York for 50 years, for example. Senator Clinton drafted the Federal Access to Employment and English Acquisition Act, which aims to help individual states meet the growth in demand for English language courses.

Republican front-runner John McCain says a requirement to learn English must be one step on ‘a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants’. At the same time, he backs allowing state schools to continue teaching some subjects in languages other than English, a view unpopular with his party’s more conservative elements.

Clinton’s Democrat rival Barack Obama, has pledged his support for bilingual education and promises to help ‘limited English proficient’ students progress by making schools accountable for ensuring they complete their education.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Update, May 2008; Obama supporter Senator Edward Kennedy has proposed extending the No Child Left Behind Act, which compels the 50 States to reach minimum targets for achievement for all school students, regardless of whether English is their first language or not. He proposes that all 'English Language Learners' (children whose first language is not English) be taught be certified ESL-qualified teachers at pre-school kindergarten classes as well as primary and secondary schools. Very few ESL-qualified pre-school teachers exist.

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