When navigating the treacherous river of high school, there are a lot of things to think about: social cliques, grades, extracurriculars, college applications, and so much more. Now imagine navigating all of that without being fluent in the language of your peers. Not only is it difficult to communicate, but it can feel isolating. This is why Multilingual Programs (MLPs), like at Berkeley High School, should exist at all high schools.
According to the United States Department of State, the U.S. hosts more than one million new immigrants (refugees, asylum seekers, etc. included) every year. For many immigrants, moving to a different country with no friends or grasp of norms is scary. Even scarier if you don’t speak the language, where even the simplest task, like buying groceries, can be tricky.
But the situation is particularly difficult for teenagers attending school, as all the instruction for classes is in a foreign language. Even if students are good at non-language classes like algebra and chemistry, vocabulary and learning new material prove difficult, as the instructions being given are not clear. Academically, this can lower one’s grades, thereby making college applications all the more difficult. But with a MLP catered to students learning English with various modes of instruction, they have a much higher chance of succeeding academically.
“All the teachers are very patient and they go really slow and they’re very understanding with the lessons and assignments.” said Kashmala Khan, a BHS junior, who was part of the MLP from fourth grade to tenth grade in Berkeley.
Students make friends with people through talking to them, so it can be socially challenging when students don’t speak the same language as their classmates. But MLPs place people facing the same challenges together, so they can find a community who won’t judge them.
They can also help each other because they share the same struggles, and they are trying to learn the same thing, even with different first languages. Moreover, it brings people with the same mother tongues together so they can also help each other. It’s relieving to be with someone to freely communicate with.
“We were all similar to each other, and in some way we were struggling with the same things. It (the MLP)felt really good, it felt like a family,” Khan said.
It’s important to note that MLP teachers make a real difference in multilingual students’ lives. Not only do students learn faster and better, they feel a part of a community, which is a key aspect of educational success. Every student can be successful if they are supported and taught in the way that is right for them.
The United States should extend that opportunity across the barriers of language. According to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, “the memo (written by the Office for Civil Rights and upheld by the Supreme Court) requires school districts to take affirmative steps, it does not prescribe the content of these steps.” English Language Learner (ELL) programs need to either provide classes tailored to students’ needs, or one on one help during classes for these students.