Learning and the Language Dilemma


Learning and the Language Dilemma

Learning and the Language Dilemma

By Leon Dixon (1995)


After having worked with style='mso-spacerun:yes'> young people since 1973 at the W.E.B. DuBois
Learning Center, where volunteers have been helping students with their basic
skills, especially reading, I have come to realize that there are certain
aspects of language that have an influence on learning that many of us do not
seem to fully appreciate.


For one: each of us has our
own style of language. And if a certain number of us have enough language
similarities in common, then we collectively share a dialect. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>
Every one of us thinks, feels, and imagines
in our own dialect. Textbooks and most
other sources of information are presented in Standard English (SE). style='mso-spacerun:yes'> Whenever we receive information in that form,
we must translate it into our dialect. A
problem that occurs is that most of us do not realize that this is taking
place. If our personal language usage is
close enough to SE, then this translation is done with enough ease so as not to
cause any problems.


Another thing: each
discipline has its own language with its own nuances. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>
All of which are couched in SE. style='mso-spacerun:yes'> I have noticed that when some young people
read their lessons, they can literally read (i.e. pronounce) the words, but
they often do not understand what is being expressed. style='mso-spacerun:yes'> They are trying to use the “rules” of their
dialect to interpret the SE of the text.
This is especially noticeable in the natural sciences and


A technique that I have
successfully employed in overcoming this hurdle is to work with the young
people to help them understand the concepts in their own dialect. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>
Once they are able to satisfactorily explain
the concepts to me, using their own words, I proceed to explain to them how it
is expressed in SE. And I also help them
understand the problems that they are running into with their language
usage. It needs to be explained to them
that their dialect usage has its place and is all right in its “proper”
setting. But in the worlds of academia
and work, SE is the norm. They have to
be bi-dialectal!


A cultural point: in American
culture, as opposed to some others, children are given names with little or no
thought given to their meanings. And
many people live their lives without associating names of things and terms with
anything descriptive. This means they
re relying too heavily on rote memory.
And they suffer the consequences as characterized by the line in a
popular rap song that says, “My mind’s playing tricks on me.” style='mso-spacerun:yes'>
In academic disciplines, the understanding of
terminology is essential in grasping and internalizing concepts. style='mso-spacerun:yes'> Again, this can be very significant in
science and mathematics.


American youths are going to
have to compete in the twenty-first century and the coming Information Age with
young people throughout the world. If
they are to do this successfully, then our educators and caregivers are going
to have to do a better job in repairing them to handle these dilemmas of
language that have to do with the difficulty of translating from a community
dialect to Standard English.