Aside from finding balance between the first and second language, language variation is also a linguistic issue that must be addressed. Throughout the world, there are a variety of Englishes. In the United States alone there are Black English, Walter Cronkite English, Brooklynese, Bostonese, Appalachian English, bush English in Alaska, Hawaiian Pidgin, Chicano English and many more. It is not only in the formal classroom that students may learn English. They may also acquire English communicative competence from peers, other family members, sports activities, and the media.
This results to a variation of the type of language that the students learn. Because of this language variation that the students learn, teachers become frustrated when the type of language variation the students learn are incorrect despite their efforts to instill in them a standard version of the language. However, students want to learn to speak English not just because they want to get good grades and please their teachers but to survive socially and fit in with the sociolinguistic structure of their communities and peer subcultures as well.
Teachers should learn to value language variation because language patterns play a salient sociocultural role in the lives of students across speech communities (Ovando, Combs, & Collier, 2006). Language minority students use a different language variation at home. Hence, as in any linguistic community, the students represent a wide range of language variation in their home language. For example, Hispanic American students may be exposed to a standard form of Spanish in their school markedly different from the Spanish they are use at home.
Thus, the teacher must consider the students’ backgrounds to understand that they are not just dealing with standard English and standard form of the home language of the students. Teachers must keep in mind that language variation may be represented not just in English but in other languages used by the students as well. Language variation may also be in terms of the varying levels of proficiency in the first and second language. Language minority students are usually categorized in two: English language learners and English proficient students.
However, another layer must be considered in the construction of language categories. These are students who lack full communicative competence in both their home language and English. This may result from “subtractive bilingualism” schooling experiences, in which the first language is being lost as the second language is learned (California Dep’t of Education, 1981, pp 217-218). The students’ home language may also be lost when non-English-speaking parents talk to their children in their second language, English, thinking that this would help their children learn English quickly.
This practice is often initiated by the teachers. Teachers sometimes recommend the parents to talk with their children in English at home. Although teachers may have good intentions for recommending this practice, it only leads in the students forgetting their first language. Moreover, this practice leads to poor communication between the parents and the students. Parents may have difficulty in sharing with their children their most subtle, rich and intimate feelings and thoughts in a language that they themselves do not comprehend that much (Ovando, Combs, & Collier, 2006).
However, not all language minority students struggle to hang on to their first language because of the use of English at home. Some students speak only English but their home language is still being revitalized. Although grandparents, who still adapt the policies and expectations of the past, suppress their ancestral languages, there are patents who want to revive their traditional languages and cultures for their children (Ovando & Gourd, 1996).
There are areas such as those in Alaska and Guam with strong oral traditions but little written literature who developed their curricular materials in native languages to revive their traditional language (Ovando, 1984, ,1997). Finally, it is important to remember that there are students who do not come from language minority homes. Because it is illegal to segregate students, bilingual classrooms should have some language majority English-speaking students. These students may be in a bilingual classroom because their residence is in a place close to the school with a bilingual program.
This may also result from parents intentionally enrolling their children in a bilingual school because they value second language learning and exposing their children in a multicultural society. As with the language minority students, the native English-speaking students also come from a variety of backgrounds. Many bilingual classrooms in some inner-city schools are composed predominantly of language minority students and English-language-background African American students with only a few English-language-background white students.
Exposure in a multicultural environment in bilingual classrooms helps the native English-speaking students to keep from becoming isolated linguistic and cultural enclaves. Moreover, the environment provides many English-speaking children to have academically and personally enriching experience of being exposed to different languages and cultures. TESOL (1993) stresses that it is important to see that bilingual education is a truly national resource for all students, including monolingual English-speaking students:
For students who come from homes where only English is used, bilingual education means the opportunity to add another language to their repertoire so that they, too, will have alternate means of learning and communicating beyond theirfamilies and immediate communities. The mix of language minority and language majority students in bilingual classrooms enables children in such contexts to play a mutually important role with each other as linguistic and sociocultural models. (p. 1)