Your Tax Dollars at Work Putting Native-English-Speakers in ESL

I have chosen to keep my daughter in ESL (English as a Second Language), despite the fact that English is her first language. I apologize for the fact that your tax dollars will be paying for that, but as you will see, I had very little choice about it.

First, let me explain how a native English-speaker ended up in ESL:

My husband is Mexican-American, and speaks both English and Spanish at a native level. I was born here, but am nosey and stubborn, and when I was 16 I decided that I didn’t want anyone ever to have to translate for me. Within a few years, I was also speaking Spanish at a native level.

When we had children, we were determined to raise them bilingual. The catch was this: my husband and I were accustomed to speaking only English to each other, and habits are hard to break.

As awkward as it felt, from the first day of my daughter’s life, we spoke Spanish to her. I remember speaking to her in Spanish the first time I held her in my arms. It felt forced and unnatural. I continued to do it anyway.

We knew that she would be surrounded by English, and the risk of her English crowding out her Spanish was very real. Seeing our nieces and nephews, who looked Hispanic but would go cross-eyed the minute you said “Hola”, kept us motivated.

Eventually we relaxed and let the English slowly creep in.

My daughter’s linguistic evolution has been fascinating to watch:

1 yr old: Completely mixes the languages, doesn’t realize that some people only speak one language, composes sentences such as “Esta es una bird.”

1-1/2 yrs old: Still mixing languages mid-sentence, but reacts with surprise when an English-speaker talks to her in Spanish, or vice-versa.

2 yrs old: Monolingual sentences, speaking to people in the correct language

3-5 yrs old: English gradually dominates, Spanish stagnates. Can translate effectively from Spanish to English, but struggles with the reverse. Reads well, but only in English.

Up until she was about 2, I wondered if her English would be good enough for Kindergarten. By the time she was 3, it was clear her English was as strong as that of any monolingual child her age.

That was why I was surprised when, one month into Kindergarten, I received a note from the school. The note–written only in Spanish–said they had tested my daughter and determined she needed ESL.


I completely hit the roof. Who told them to test her anyway? Did they just look at her say, “Well, her last name is Torres. We should probably put her in ESL.”

When I spoke to the school, I discovered that:

  1. They are legally required to test the English level of any child who speaks another language
  2. My daughter didn’t pass because her listening skills were just below the mark (Kindergarteners are known for their listening skills.)
  3. Regardless of what I say, do, or throw at them, they will continue to test my child yearly and harass me about putting her in ESL
  4. If I do nothing, she will not be taken out of class, but will have a teacher sent into her class who will give her individualized attention
  5. I can sign a waiver to keep her out of ESL, but the only thing that will accomplish is to prevent her from getting some extra attention in a sea of anonymous students.

I don’t want my child in ESL. I’m quite unhappy that she has been inappropriately classified without my consent. I am also too busy to take on the entire school system right now, and I don’t see the point of depriving her of some extra (if completely unnecessary) attention.

I should mention that this has happened to at least 8 other families I know. Some of those cases are far more ridiculous than my own (some of the children only speak English.)

So again, I apologize. This is just one more way your tax dollars will go to waste.


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