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在美国如何教移民的孩子们学英语

2006-05-12 13:02

  In the US we have free compulsory public education for all children from grade 1 to grade 12. Children must stay in school through grade 12, or at least until they are 16. Public schooling is truly free: no book fees, no music fees, no athletic fees. Books are handed out at the beginning of the school year and must be returned at the end. Most schools supply paper, pencils, erasers, calculators, computers, art supplies and musical instruments.

  I have been a primary-school teacher for over 30 years. I teach English in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pupils who are members of racial minorities. Currently I work with Haitian immigrant children who do not speak English when they enter school. Their families come from a country where violence is all too common. Haitian schools are often closed; indeed, in the past ten years, there has not been a single complete school year. Grinding poverty results in a very low level of literacy. Parents seldom have funds for books, paper or pencils. When the children of such families arrive in the US, they are woefully unprepared to compete with their middle-class agemates.

  How should we teachers help them to learn, especially to learn English?

  We surround the child with spoken English, encouraging them to use any words they pick up and ignoring all mistakes. We read books aloud, ask questions and constantly encourage responses. A child may start with one word, for examplewater, but by day 3 he can say, "Me water," and by day 5, "I want water." Language grows from small beginnings as the teacher constantly prods the child to use single words and to make longer utterances as he learns. When the child is using English, we do not correct errors in pronunciation. We see such mistakes as the act of practicing a new skill. By trying out his new English skills, the pupil will improve on his own. If he is corrected each time, he will become reluctant to keep trying.

  We do not teach English by having the students memorize words. Instead we start by teaching phonics, which is the study of the sounds that letters make. Phonics provides children with a code: pupils learn individual letter sounds and then learn how letters work in groups. As students progress in phonics, they can read new words on their own because they know how individual letters probably sound.

  English-speaking students are also taught phonics, but phonics is particularly important for second-language learners. We start teaching the sounds of the alphabet to pupils unable to speak English from the very first day they set foot in the classroom, no matter how few English words they know.

  I was amazed to find that primary-school teachers in China do not use phonics in teaching children how to read. It seems a gargantuan task to teach a pupil to memorize every word he needs to know, much as if the child were being asked to shovel a huge pile of sand, with the shovel shut away. Phonics is a code that unlocks word construction. It empowers the child to learn by putting small pieces together.

  Right now I am learning Chinese and am happy to discover that the vocabulary is not too difficult. Having learned dong, nan, xi and men, suddenly I can build six or seven words: dongmen, ximen, nanmen, xinanmen. Phonic knowledge operates quite similarly. Suppose I teach a child an, ran, man, can. I then can teach and,stand, land, band. Give the child her, der-, -ing and un- and he can build or recognize under, then understand, and finally understanding. Phonics teaches word families such as cat, bat, fat, flat. Later on we might build catty, batting, fatter, flatten. These words do not need to be memorized because they are built up from small phonic units that children can use in many different combinations. This is a constructionist approach to learning: the children are given the phonic tools to construct and sound out new words by themselves.

  Test results show that my students make from one to three years' progress within one school year. Our immigrant children, members of racial minorities, are beginning to close the enormous gap in achievement between minority and majority students.

  美国对小学一年级到12年级的孩子实行强制性义务教育,孩子们必须在学校里读完12年,或者至少要到16岁。公立学校的的确确是免费的:不收书本费,不收音乐课费用,不收体育课费用。每一学年开始时书会发到孩子手里,期末则必须交回去。大多数学校还提供纸张、铅笔、橡皮、计算器、计算机、美术课用具和乐器。

  我在小学工作了30多年,在马萨诸塞州剑桥市教小学生英文,这些学生属于美国的少数民族。目前,我正在教从海地移民过来的孩子,他们在踏进校门时一句英语都不会说。他们的家庭来自一个到处都是暴力的国家,学校常常是关闭着的,说实在的,在过去10年中,海地连一个完整的学年都没有过。贫穷的煎熬使得海地国民中的识字水平极低,父母难得有钱为孩子们买书、纸张和铅笔。当这样家庭的孩子到了美国后,要想与来自中产阶级的同龄人竞争,其基础极为薄弱。

  那么,我们这些当老师的该如何帮他们学习,特别是学好英语呢?

  我们用口语“包围”他们,鼓励他们说出哪怕是只言片语,并且不去理会他们出的错。我们大声朗读课本,提出问题,不断鼓励他们回答。一个孩子一开始可能只会说一个词,比如“水”,第三天可能就会说“我,水”,第5天就会说“我要水”。当教师不断督促孩子使用单个词汇,并学着说出长一点儿的句子时,语言能力就从这点点滴滴之处得到了发展。当孩子们说英语时,我们不去纠正他们发音上的错误,我们认为这种错误是在实践一种新技能时不可避免的。当孩子们尝试着自己新学的英语技能时,自己就会更正。如果你每次都纠正他,他就不愿意再说了。

  我们教英语时,并不让学生死背单词,反之,我们是从教语音入手,也就是教字母的发音规律。基础语音为孩子们提供了一把钥匙:他们学习单个字母的发音,然后学习这些字母组合在一起时如何发音。当学生们在基础语音方面有了进步,自己就可以读出新的单词,因为他们已经知道每个字母可能该怎么读了。

  我们教母语是英语的学生学英语也是从语音开始的,但是对于英语是第二语言的学生学习语音就尤为重要。对于那些不会说英语的学生,从他们进教室的第一天起我们就教他们字母的发音,不管他们知道的单词有多么少。

  当我发现中国的小学老师教孩子读英文单词不使用基础语音教学法时真是感到惊愕。教一个小学生去死背他们需要掌握的每一个单词,看来真是一项浩繁的任务,可更像要一个孩子铲掉一大堆沙子,却不给他铲子。语音是解开单词结构的钥匙,它赋予孩子们通过把字母组合在一起学新单词的能力。

  现在我正在学习中文,我很高兴地发现汉语词汇并不太难,学会了东、南、西和门,一下子我就能组合六七个词了,东门,西门,南门,西南门。语音知识的功能相当类似。如果我教孩子an,ran,man,can,之后就可以教and,stand,land,band。教给孩子her,der- , -ing和un-,他就会合成或认识under,接下来是understand,最后是understanding。语音法教单词的“家族”如cat,bat,fat,flat,之后我们就可以组合成catty,batting,fatter,flatten。这些词并不需要死记硬背,因为它们是由很小的语音单元组合成的,而这些小语音单元是孩子们在很多种不同的组合中都会用的。这是学习语言的一种结构型方式:给孩子们一种能够自己组合新词、念出新词的语音工具。

  考试结果表明,我的学生在一个学年内就可以取得通常需要1—3年的成果。我们的移民孩子,少数民族的成员,正在缩短着少数民族学生与其他学生之间在学习上的巨大差距。

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