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The Sun Will Come Out Amara A Study Of The Language Development Of A Cambodian Girl In The United States

2341 words - 9 pages

When I think about my experience in middle school I almost laugh: I grew up in a household where both parents were veteran teachers long before I was born, where learning was always encouraged and praised, where books were always available, and where "crime" in our small Northern California town reached its pinnacle when Dave Johnson's second son stole 15 chickens from the John Bower Ranch.And still I had the gall to complain about having to go to school!That's why it always amazes me when I read accounts like that of Amara Sim's, a young woman who struggled through the most incredible odds, enmeshed in an educational system that gave her little or no support, and still managed to make it out alive.Looking at her background, Amara seemingly had everything going against her. To begin with, she was placed in a 7th grade classroom in the U.S. despite having only the equivalent of a 2nd grade education in Cambodia. This, of course, came only after two grueling years in a refugee camp and another two years being bounced halfway around the world waiting for political asylum here in the United States. The psychological ramifications of this experience are unimaginable to someone with my background, and I can only begin to comprehend the level of culture shock Amara must have experienced when her parents finally settled in Hi-I'd-Like-A-Double-Half-Caffe-Mocha-Frappe-Iced-Vanilla-Latte-But-Don't-Spill-It-On-The-Beamer-Novato, Calif.According to language acquisition theorist John Schumann, second language acquisition only occurs to the extent that the individual can become acculturated (1978), and from very early in her reflection we can see how language and cultural shock drastically impeded Amara's adoption into United States (and, more specifically, Novato) culture . As she recounts herself, when she entered Junior High the only English she knew was "How are you?" and "I need the bathroom", and she was repeatedly teased about her speaking ability all the way through high school.As I have already noted, Amara also had little if any understanding of the educational system, providing her with a tremendous deficit in "academic competence" (Saville-Troike, 1984). Simply put, she had no language proficiency, background knowledge, or even familiarity with basic strategies to complete academic tasks. On top of this, because of her minimal education she knew little about grammatical or sociolinguistic conventions in her native language, which makes it all the more difficult for her to learn the "rules" of English. Often referred to as "cognitive underlying proficiency", language studies have shown that if you understand a concept in your native tongue (i.e., how to write a summary, take notes, or even what "grammar" is), that understanding will carry over and assist one's learning of a new language (Cummins, 1996). Amara had little to none of that proficiency.As we also see in her reflection, what little education she had on top of her second grade schooling...

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