What are we doing with our cuties? I was reading an article about the local dialect being lost in Shangai and I began to wonder about our kids here in the States. What is happening to the dialect that our kids are coming to school with and what role do we play as SLPs, educators, parents, and citizens in protecting their dialect?
This is not the first time I have thought about this, and some of my research interests are starting to look at this issue too. But, I think my problem is this…we have many culturally diverse children coming to school around the age of 5 who have only been exposed to the dialect spoken to them in their homes and in their communities. They’ve spent summers telling stories to their Filipino grandmother in their Tagalog influenced English, shared jokes with their cousins from Puerto Rico in Spanglish, told secrets to their favorite Auntie from the South using AAE…Then…they walk in that door in September as kindergartners, fresh, innocent sponges, and one of the things they end up learning, whether this is explicit or implicit, is that the way they speak is wrong.
In an article I read for class called: The Right (Write) Start: African American English and the Discourse of Sounding Right by Anne Haas Dyson and Geneva Smitherman, they tell the story of Tionna who comes to school confidently speaking her AAE dialect and within a short period of time learns that her way of speaking is wrong. She goes so far as to correct the speech of characters in books that are speaking “incorrectly.” So then, what happens? These kindergartners start to go home and speak in a way that is a bit different than their family. They may even start to correct their parents’ English or their grandparents’ English. Amy Tan wrote an article that expresses her embarrassment over her mom’s “broken” English.
What’s worse (my opinion, of course), is that everyone starts to sound the same?? I don’t want to live in a place where everyone speaks the same flavor of English!
I think what makes me sad is the cultural identity piece these kindergartners are losing and the confidence they had in their linguistic ability begins to wane as well. Also, I’ve witnessed from some of my own kindergartners the connection that they have with their family members and their communities becomes strained. And whether this learning is taking place explicitly or implicitly, it is happening. Our schools are places that value White middle-class culture, which includes the use of Mainstream American English. I get that. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I don’t think I can change that part of education (not yet). And I get that we want our children to have access to many different opportunities in the world and learning MAE is just one of those tools they may need in their toolkit to open these doors. But then, why isn’t THAT what we are telling them? Why are we telling them through the books that we read and the words that we say and the tests that we give that the America they have grown up in is wrong? I think we, as SLPs, as educators and parents and good citizens should find a better way to express the beauty of cultural-linguistic diversity and present it as an asset in this country, not something you must work to overcome. Because, seriously, kindergartners are just too cute.