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Can you imagine learning biology, history or math through a language you didn’t grow up speaking at home? That’s the reality for more than 10 percent of public school students in Illinois.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale, through the Department of Linguistics, is trying to make learning easier for students in Southern Illinois. Part of the Department’s mission is to prepare local teachers to serve non-native English-speaking students. In addition to degree programs in general linguistics, the Department of Linguistics offers a Bachelor’s in Linguistics with a specialization in English as a New Language, a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and courses that fulfill the state requirements for an English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual Education Endorsement to a teaching license for K-12 teachers.

This past summer, the Department of Linguistics worked with the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Education and Human Services to obtain grant funding of more than $100,000 from the Illinois Board of Higher Education to increase the number of K-12 teachers in southern Illinois with an ESL or Bilingual Education Endorsement. Upon completing their endorsements, these teachers will be prepared to work with students who speak a language other than English at home to effectively teach them both academic content (math, science, social studies, etc.) and English-language skills.

Across the United States, most non-native English-speaking students take ESL classes that focus on developing their English language skills. These courses are taught by instructors such as those trained in the endorsement programs at SIU. However, such students often lag behind in developing their home language skills, which can actually slow their English development and academic achievement.

But what about in southern Illinois?

Carbondale Public Schools are unique in the area for offering not only ESL courses, but also a true bilingual two-way immersion program that actively engages students from both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking homes in the same classroom. This program allows students to engage in academic growth through biculturalism, bilingualism, and biliteracy. Such immersion programs are highly successful for academic and language achievement for students from all language backgrounds.

SIU’s engagement with the community is already strong and continues to grow. Carbondale Elementary School District 95 has passed a budget that allows MA students in the Departments of Linguistics and Languages, Cultures, and International Trade to get funding for their studies while obtaining hands-on experience in bilingual education in the public schools. According to Dr. Itxaso Rodríguez, an assistant professor with joint appointments in Linguistics and Spanish, “This is a great opportunity for our students to get valuable training. And, as someone who grew up in a bilingual education program in Spain, I know the importance of students understanding that multilingualism is the norm around the world. Being bilingual allowed me to navigate the world much more effectively, and it is incredible that our students in southern Illinois also get this opportunity.”

SIUC is glad to be part of the effort to enhance the English-language skills for our non-native speakers in the area, and appreciates the tremendous training opportunity for our own students.

Meera Komarraju is dean of the College of Liberal Arts at SIU.

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