As of 2008 there were over five million ESL children in the United States’ school system and their numbers have risen by 57 percent over the past ten years. While the total enrollment in K-12 has risen by a mere 20 percent between 1989 and 2005, the percent of ESL enrollment in K-12 has risen by a whopping 140 percent!(1) (see figure 1) In a survey conducted in 2007, 69% of SLP’s reported having at least one non-English speaker in their caseload (2).
The Yiddish speaking population in the United States is currently around 150,000.(3) Given their strong emphasis on family values and fertility their numbers are expected to increase exponentially. Nationwide, only 21 percent of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 are married. But in orthodox Jews that number is an astounding 71 percent!(4) Although the author is not aware of any reliable data on the Yiddish speaking segment, he is confident that it is above 90 percent. Orthodox couples typically have at least four children per couple, and having more than ten children is not at all uncommon. In the New York City area, for example, the Orthodox make up 32% of Jews over all. But they make up 61% of Jewish children. Because the Orthodox are so fertile, they will soon be the dominant group in New York Jewry.(4) Given that Yiddish parents are passionate about providing good education for their children, it is to reckon that the demand for speech therapy in Yiddish will surge.(5)
SLP’s still possess many tools they can use even when there is a mismatch in the client’s/clinician’s languages.(6) In a survey conducted in 2007, 130 SLP’s reported having administered assessments of ESL children, yet only one of them reported being able to speak a language other than English.(2) Clearly these clinicians found some way to work around their language differences. When faced with a choice between getting no speech therapy and getting speech therapy in English, the scale tips in favor of the latter.(6) Still, giving an ESL child intervention in his dominant language, when possible, is significantly more effective,(6)(7) and is required by ASHA’s code of ethics.(7)(1) Clinicians may attempt to minimize the effect of their language mismatch by making good use of non-verbal communication, this is not completely effective. A recent study showed enhanced understanding of the language and culture is necessary to provide valid intervention for children from diverse cultural backgrounds even when the clinician uses non-verbal communication methods (picture books etc.)(8) Intervention in the child’s dominant language makes the child feel more relaxed in the therapy session which better simulates his typical communications which results in improved generalization.(9)
Some clinicians claim intervening in English is actually advantageous to the child’s development since it accomplishes two goals, teaching them language/articulation skills and teaching them English. This argument is faulty at its source. Preliminary evidence show that a child will grasp his second language faster and better when he has a strong first language base.(9)
Although every language is associated with a culture, Yiddish is much more than that; it’s the life blood of its speakers.(10) Yiddish is lovingly referred to by its speakers as “Mameh Lushon” (Lit. mother speech); it has found a way into its speaker’s hearts and “became as precious and as nourishing as mother’s milk.”(11) It took almost 2,500 years, from the Exodus until around 1000 C.E., to form the ideas upon which Yiddish is based into the forms that give birth to the language. The common definition of ‘language’ as “the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community”(12) does not do justice to this revered vernacular.(11) A person may remember the entire Yiddish dictionary by heart and still not understand a word of Yiddish.(13)
Another important point about Yiddish is that its raison d'être, is the need or desire by its speakers to speak Yiddish, as distinct from Goyish, Jewish instead of gentile. Rowdy kids used to be told, “Fir zikh vi a yid, act like a Jew!” If the same kids answered in English, they’d be asked, “Vos reydstu goyish, why are you speaking Goyish?” The opposition could not be plainer. Yiddish arose, at least in part, to give voice to a system of opposition and exclusion.(13) The ‘enlightened Jews’ in the nineteenth century who opposed the use of Yiddish because they saw it as a stumbling block to Jewish ‘normalization’ were absolutely right; Yiddish embodies the successful circumcision of every German cultural assumption.(13)
These points are important to consider when providing therapy to a Yiddish speaking ESL. When you speak to him in English, you are using that un-homey, icy language that is only used by ‘outsiders’ or when you need to speak to ‘outsiders’. Generalization is almost impossible given distance between the icy therapy session and the cozy Yiddish speaking environment.
Following are the guidelines I followed to create these materials:
- The materials mainly targets the American Hasidic community, and is slightly geared towards boys.
- The materials sometimes uses words that may not be used in the child’s immediate social circles. For example a ‘room’ can be called "רום" "צומער" or "שטוב". Using a different word than the child knows already will serve to broaden his vocabulary.
- I did not concern myself with the ‘correct’ spelling of words. For example for butterfly I did not use the ‘correct’ Yiddish word which is "פלאטערל" because most children do not know what that means. I also did not spell the word "באטערפליי" because that is not the way we pronounce it; rather I wrote "בארעפליי"
1) Cheng, L.-R. L., & Langdon, H. W. (2009). Cultural due diligence: Infusing multicultural/multilingual (MMI) information in CD &S training programs. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.capcsd.org/proceedings/2009/talks/Infusing%20Cultural%20and%20Linguist6ic%20Diversity%20within%20CSD%20Curriculum%20-%20L%20Cheng%20and%20H%20Langdon.pdf
2) Caesar, L. G., & Kohler, P. D. (2007, July). The state of school-based bilingual assessment: Actual practice versus recommended guidelines. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 38(3). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.lbproxy8.touro.edu/docview/232583251?accountid=14375
8) Gorman, B. K., Fiestas, C. E., Peña, E. D., & Reynolds, M. (2011, April). Creative and stylistic devices employed by children during a storybook narrative task: A cross-cultural study. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 167-181.
14) Ballantyne, K. G., Sanderman, A. R., & Levy, J. (2008). Educating English Language Learners: Building teacher capacity roundtable report. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition website: http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/3/EducatingellsBuildingTeacherCapacityVol1.pdf
15) Rosten, L. (1970). The joys of Yiddish: A relaxed lexicon of Yiddish, Hebrew and Yinglish words often encountered in English ... New York, NY: Pocket Books.
16) Spinelli, C. G. (2008). Addressing the issue of cultural and linguistic diversity and assessment: Informal evaluation measures for English Language Learners. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24, 101-1171.
Sources 14-16 are not directly cited in the text but were used to formulate the ideas.