Chapter V:
Teaching Standard English To Speakers Of Nonstandard English Dialects

There is little disagreement that educational success and expanded social and career options are linked to competence in standard English. An alarming percentage of students who speak nonstandard English are failing to acquire standard English, the language of education. Moreover, many students who do acquire standard English do so while being taught to reject the language of their home, community and peers. In the process, they are denied an effective element of social solidarity, which is an important element of cultural heritage.


Why Do Nonstandard English Speaking Children Fail to Acquire Standard English?

Many arguments have been advanced to explain the low achievement levels of nonstandard English speaking children, particularly African American children, in acquiring oral competence in standard English. The most tenable argument suggests that the philosophy, assumptions and traditional classroom methodologies employed in language arts education have failed because they have been prescriptive and corrective and have focused too much on language structure rather than on communicative competence (Taylor, 1985). Moreover, traditional teaching methodologies have not typically been culturally sensitive, nor have they made use of indigenous, nonstandard dialects. These significant deficiencies are probably due to naivete, or to negative attitudes toward language variations by language arts teachers.


Toward More Effective Teaching of Standard English

In recent years, a number of educators have begun to devise and implement instructional strategies which take into account the various language systems that students bring into the classroom. In general, these strategies are based on modern sociolinguistic learning theory and on established principles of second language teaching.

In 1981, California became the first state to recognize the importance of indigenous dialects in teaching standard English. Focusing primarily on the language of African American nonstandard English speaking children, California's State Board of Public Instruction stated in part:

Many Black learners come to the school setting speaking a language that is linguistically different from standard English. The language they speak is an integral part of the Afro-American culture . . . It is a unique language which serves a uniquely rich culture. However, the school setting and that of the larger American society, including the economic and commercial communities, represent another linguistic sphere in which the student must learn to move and speak successfully. To the extent that the young student fluently communicates in either language, he increases his opportunities in both realms ....

Therefore, to provide proficiency in English to California students who are speakers of Black Language and to provide equal educational opportunities for these students, it is recommended that the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education hereby recognize:

That structured oral language practice in standard English should be provided on an ongoing basis.

That special program strategies are required to address the needs of speakers of Black language.

That parents and the general public should be informed of implications of educational strategies to address the linguistic needs of Black students.


Teaching Standard English from a Cultural Perspective

Teaching the standard language from a cultural perspective differs from the traditional language education approach in that it does not blame the victim. Standard English instruction from a cultural perspective does not presuppose the devaluation or elimination of a learner's indigenous language as a pre-requisite for learning. It recognizes that students need to retain their home dialect where its use is appropriate.

Several major requirements for teaching standard English from a cultural perspective follow. Instruction should:

A successful culturally based standard English program recognizes that learning proceeds in an orderly way from the introduction of a particular aspect of language through its mastery. The model which has enjoyed the widest use and greatest success was designed in the late 1970s by the San Diego Oral Language Program. It has been used with modifications in Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD) programs in Dallas, Texas, and in Richmond and Oakland in California. The model lists several necessary steps for learning a new linguistic system while preserving the student's indigenous system. The model includes the following eight steps:

Before beginning to teach standard English from a cultural perspective, the teacher and school need a clear language arts philosophy which embraces modern principles of ethnology, sociolinguistics and second language instruction The philosophy and assumptions statement developed by the Richmond Unified School District in California is a good example of what schools and teachers may usefully adopt. (See Appendix I.)

Finally, before beginning program implementation, the teacher and school community must become thoroughly familiar with the following general principles of second dialect instruction:


What Is a Good Approach to Implementing Standard
English as a Second Dialect (SESD) Programs?

Minimum standards must be established for evaluating the validity of culturally based SESD curricula and teaching/learning strategies. An SESD program should:

The Richmond and Los Angeles school districts in California and Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida, have developed lessons and support materials for implementing SESD programs. Names and addresses of information sources on SESD programs are presented in Appendix III.


How Can Aides and Parents Help?

The teaching of a second dialect cannot be solely the responsibility of the classroom teacher, no more than it can be limited to the language arts classroom. Teacher aides and parents can support the instructional process and assist children's language development in general and SESD instruction in particular by:

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