FN#3:draft#1- Spanish-only speakers, Does language mask evidence of learning?

From: Christie M. Thomas
Submit: Post Field Note
VisitDate: 10/14/96
Collaborative: Selected
Informal: Selected
Date: 19 Nov 1996
Time: 23:01:14
Remote Name: tsb-55.ucsc.edu



Manuela, female, grade 5 Christie, female, undergrade (me)


I sat down next to Manuela who was already into a computer game. I don't know the name of it but the task was to match a word with its opposite. The words were behind cards, so it was a memorization task as well (i.e. good and bad, short and tall). I watched as she clicked on cards to try to match. I asked her what word was she looking for the match to and she said she doesn't speak english. Since I don't speak Spanish (except for random words I remember from high school Spanish class). I worried to myself how was I going to be able to understand what she was saying, and she understand what I was saying. So I quietly watched for awhile. It seemed that she was ramdomly clicking on the cards, every now and then she would get a match. When she did we would say si and smile at each other and the computer would make a funny noise. I wanted to help her more because it seemed kind of random when she would get a match and I couldn't tell if she "really understood" the game. By us saying si together and our mutual smiles I being to feel more comfortable with Manuela and she with me (I think) and I ventured to become more active in her game by bringing out my old H.S. memories of Spanish 3. I tried to explain that the game wanted her to find opposite words like bueno y malo o grande y picano(sp?) etc. When she would turn over a card I would try to translate it into Spanish so she would know what the word is so she could find what the opposite is. It seems this was working pretty good. Manuela began getting more and more matches. She would finish the whole screen and go on to the next level. Many times certain matches would reappear on other levels and she would remember them and match them without my rough attempts at translation.


Soon after I sat down to work with Manuela I recall worrying about the language "barrier" (maybe it wasn't) between us. I wondered if she would be receptive to me considering I couldn't completely understand things she said to me. We began by not saying too much because most comments where meet by a confused look on both of our faces. Soon though we got past that, I tried to connect with her however I could based on my limited Spanish vocabulary. And she was patient with me and willingly worked to understand me. I think our smiles were universal, we both understood them no matter our native language. We continued from there more comfortable with and receptive of each other.


This issue of a 'common language', how to find one and/or build on is interesting to me. What things do we do, can we do to connect with each other considering the differences that separate us?

Because we are working with a 'community' of kids at BU some of which are spanish-only speakers, should all undergrads in the program be bilingual? If this were a requirement, do you think we would be limiting the development of other possible ways to 'connect' with the kids besides just speaking the same language. I think something meaningful happened here despite the language issue.

Manuela performed observably "better" in the game after she understood what those English words were in Spanish. Had these translations not happened, I can see how it could have been conclued that she was not good at this matching/memorization task. When in actuality she did not have problems with matching opposite words or memorization, she had difficulty understanding the English words. Had the words been written in Spanish I don't believe Manuela would have had any problems in the begining. This brings me to my concern/point that kids can be easily labeled mistakingly as having less ablities then they really have because your basing your conclusions on something that is not really measuring ability at all.

How often are children mislabeled/misgraded/misunderstood because the basis of our measurements are flawed, unfair, or completely measuring something else?

Does language mask evidence of learning? How do we overcome this?