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My Mother's Spanish

My Mother's Spanish

My mother, a gifted storyteller, nourished a love of language in all her children. Even before we began school, she would read to us from the Spanish translations of such classic works as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Mexican music from the radio filled our house in Los Angeles, and my mother taught us to hear the words as well as the melody. Books in Spanish and Spanish-language newspapers filled our home, and she corrected the Spanish we used in writing letters to our family in Chihuahua.

With the wisdom of a young mother, she realized that the foundation of a good education is a love of language. Knowing the importance of English in this country, she made sure we would learn it. Her contribution to that end was to give us a love for her speech, the language she knew best.

Though she studied English along with us, she had the good sense to realize that literacy is a skill that crosses language barriers, and she realized that by enriching our minds with literacy in one language, we'd be better prepared for a second. If more politicians had as much good sense, our schools would be better off.

Perhaps inevitably, her two sons both became bilingual and both translated their love of language into careers as English teachers. Those of us who teach language minority students in our nation's public schools see the evidence for inter-language literacy again and again: Students who are strong readers in their native language invariably become strong readers in English.

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