Marco moved here to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was 9 ½ years old from Arequipa, Peru. Neither of his parents spoke totally fluent English but they both had basic intrapersonal skills in English. Marco entered the 3rd grade with a class primarily of monolingual English speakers. None of his classmates were Hispanic. His father and mother brought their whole family (Marco and his 2 siblings) to the United states emigrating from a country facing political instability that threatened the safety of most of its citizens. All three family children attended White Fish Bay public schools. Marco attended White Fish Elementary School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His elder siblings and he had a basic background knowledge in Spanish and in German. He and his older siblings did not speak English at home and had only spoken German at Max Uhle School in Arequipa. German and Spanish have some common root words and morphemes, so Marco, Franca and Renzo acquired English with their German foreign language as a basis. All three children could already read and write in Spanish and German. Thus, they could easily transfer their underlying academic skills and knowledge already learned as well to the new content being taught at school.
On page 62 of Academic Conversations the author says, “that building opportunities for the transfer of knowledge and skills is an if not the major goal for classroom learning” (Zwiers, page 62) Marco’s third grade teacher was an expert primary school teacher. She was not only able to make him feel comfortable, but also to build on what he already knew in other languages and to apply it in English class. She helped shape his conversations with well needed academic language, not just with social language that he was using and learning among friends on the playground. This allowed him to make many connections cognitively across languages and disciplines as well as to take ownership of his new vocabulary and grammar skills. His teacher also encouraged him to model real world ideas among her other students.
Although they were not accustomed to cold weather and snow, being indoors in the winter gave them plenty of time to watch television in English and read in English. Fortunately, they lived in a neighborhood close to the school where they had many English-speaking friends of the same ages. Marco learned to read just like the other 3rd graders in English. His teacher used phonics, basal readers and sight words to teach him to read and write in English She often used graphic organizers, cartoons, games. pair work, manipulatives, songs, movement and even films to help Marco understand. She gave Marco extra wait time and paraphrased what she said many times. She repeated important ideas in various high context so Marco could follow discussions. She often paired him as well with students who could help him with his writing and spelling. Significant silence breakers were needed before Marco left the silent phase and began to speak among his classmates. Even though he spoke Spanish with his family at home he learned quickly to keep up with the other students in reading. He was a bit softer spoken but was close to his best friend, Johnathan. His teacher sometimes helped him individually, but her pacing was slow and structured enough for him to learn to read and in English. None of other students spoke, read or wrote in two languages, so sometimes the teacher allowed Marco to share Spanish words with his classmates or to teach them a few words in German. By building opportunities for Marco to easily transfer what he already knew in Spanish and English as well as by allowing him to share his culture and language with the class, his teacher gave him opportunities to increase his self – esteem and to feel comfortable. His classmates did not know any Spanish or German and his teacher praised him for his special talents.
Because Marco could already understand German and Spanish his underlying background knowledge helped him to learn English rather quickly. He acquired the basic skills he needed to socialize in sixth months and had a best friend who invited him to spend a lot of time at his house for playdates. His prior experience with two languages and bilingual classmates made it easy for him to feel comfortable learning English and Spanish socially with friends on the playground side by side. Although he had not formally learned to read yet in English in Peru, he was accustomed to working in German (as a second language) as he already done so at Max Uhle School. So, on the playground he could play and teach his best friend Jonathan Spanish and how to play soccer like a “Latino”.
His only family struggle was that his mom preferred to live in Peru close to his large extended family. She especially missed her eight older siblings in Arequipa. Marco’s family was not poor or uneducated like many refugee families who immigrate to America today. They had a safe and loving family back home. So, the family returned to Peru one year later. Marco was missed by all of his White Fish Bay friends, especially Johnathan. His gentle temperament and sports abilities had made him popular. Because he was the only kid who could play soccer well, he was a leader on the playground. He was popular at the playground because his soccer skills gave him an advantage in kickball, which was a popular game played in his school in White Fish Bay. Something else that happened was that while playing baseball at Johnathan’s house he broke his arm. Because he was the only boy in his class with a cast on his arm the other children were very intrigued. They were not only intrigue but they were also helpful. Overall, he had few problems adjusting to English and American culture. But he did think it was strange to drink milk out of a carton. He had never done that in Peru and was quite surprised to find out that is how milk was served in the US. (In Peru milk came in glass bottles). Since this took place in the early 1970’s and Milwaukee at that time was very sheltered and unexposed to Latino culture or Latinos, Marco was in a way an “attraction” in the “grocery store analogy”. The other children had no experience with children was from Peru or abroad. That actually made his social interaction a bit easier, although he did have to deal with the typical reactions that children of those ages have to someone different. Some called him nicknames, like Juan Valdez. But even though most probably internalized dominance, they were kind, polite and not oppressive.
Marco years later came to the U.S. to study at Wake Forest University in English. Although he was fluent in German and Spanish it was more difficult for him to read and write primarily in English quickly in college. Sometimes classmates called him a “spic”, but most found him interesting and wanted to learn more about Peru, Spanish and his culture. Despite his linguistic challenges, he was able to graduate with good grades while at the same time playing college tennis. His tennis coach’s wife often edited his essays and the athletic department provided extra supports upon request. Because Marco was a hard worker and focused, he later went to New York and study at Columbia University for his MBA, which he also acquired in English. Today he is most fluent in Spanish and English but still can read well and speaks some German.
Perhaps in college Marco experienced racism for the first time in America. By the 1980’s many poor Latino immigrants were pouring in legally and illegally to America. Student visa checks at airports customs were thorough. Occasionally students on campus would call him stereotypical nicknames in Spanish, mostly Mexican and Cuban verities. But most were able to “turn their mattresses over” and learn to ask questions, converses and learn more about educated Latinos from him. Because he was a stellar student, they respected him for making better grades than most of his classmates. Fortunately, Wake Forest and Columbia students were given enough space and curiosity to wonder, ask questions and voice engaging and interesting conversations with Marco. Marco no longer was dependent for language brokering and he felt at ease with his classmates and professors. He had found a new home, not a country full of racist or resentful Americans. Thus, he successfully used his self – discipline, critical thinking and creative skills to start, maintain and engage in creative conversations with his classmates and teachers through practice, modeling and transfer. This took energy and patience, but college and graduate school required that he meet challenging levels as well as exchange ideas and concepts. His “good conversations had both creative and critical thinking” (Zwiers, page 59).
My family is bilingual because both of my parents speak, read and write in English and Spanish. Marco is my father. He met my mother in college and they married in 1988. I came to America from Peru when I was 2 years old but learned only English in preschool and Elementary school. My parents often speak Spanish at home or with Family, but English is my first Language. I began to study Spanish