Maryland is increasingly becoming a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual state. Last July, the state reported that 16.7 percent of the population were born outside of the country– around 946,000 multilingual individuals out of 6,180,253 total residents. According to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau numbers and Data USA, about 22% percent of the state population identifies as belonging to ethnicities other than White American or African American alone, that is, Asian (about 6%), Multiracial (about 3.6 %), and Hispanic (about 12%). Relatedly, nearly 21 percent of Maryland households report speaking languages other than English at home as their primary language. The five most common languages in Maryland’s households other than English are Spanish (494,447 households) and Chinese, including Cantonese and Mandarin, (72,246 households), followed by French, Korean, and Tagalog.
These numbers demonstrate the linguistic and cultural richness of the state, and highlight the need to value the many economic, educational, and political contributions that this diversity brings to our communities. Multilingualism has always been part of our social fabric, despite English’s dominance. This has, for many years, created a tension between and within PK-12 education and higher education. While the first has often positioned the multilingual child as a “problem” to fix with the help of English Language Learning (ELL/ESL/ESOL) courses, the best higher education institutions, such as Washington College, recognize acquisition of an additional language is one of the most significant academic and professional assets one can obtain. This tension, between and within PK-12 education and higher education institutions, often limits students designated as English learners from accessing sufficient resources for their academic and professional success.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of a robust multilingual education, by the time high schoolers arrive at college, some have not fully developed their home languages. Similarly, many multilingual students (both ‘heritage’ speakers or international students) have to quickly “catch up” and acquire mastery of the English language during high school to thrive or get into college. Maryland community colleges do not currently award college credit for ELL classes, nor are these classes’s credits transferable to bachelor-awarding institutions. The problem with this “English first” approach is that we, as a society, are missing opportunities to energize multilingual citizens, value their multiculturality, and recognize their hard work.
Students and educators on the Eastern and Western Shores of Maryland are working together to ensure that the academic work of multilingual students is valued by passing the Credit for All Language Learning (CALL) Act in the Maryland General Assembly. The CALL Act requires Maryland community colleges to award degree-applicable credit for advanced ELL courses and requires Maryland colleges and universities to accept these transferred credits for the fulfillment of foreign languages requirements and/or Humanities electives. Multilingual students in Maryland who have taken ELL courses are working as hard as any other student learning French, Spanish, German, or Chinese. As a community college educator on the Western Shore and a World Languages professor on the Eastern Shore, we fully support the CALL Act because of the positive impact it will have on students, their families, and our communities. This Act brings value to the mastering of languages and to the academic work of multilingual English learners.
It is important to consider the positive impact the CALL Act will have on both the Western and the Eastern Shore’s education systems, economies, and cultural lives. At the high school level, the CALL Act would send a message to students learning English that the workforce and academic credentials offered at community colleges are for them, too. Community colleges, meanwhile, would likely see increased enrollments and retention of multilingual English learners. Currently, both Chesapeake College and Wor-Wic College offer robust ESL programs for beginners, and may add offerings of the advanced courses incentivized by the CALL Act. Many colleges and universities support this initiative, from ESL professors and staff at University of Maryland Eastern Shore to Washington College’s professors and staff. They all recognize that multilingual students are an asset for our state and our nation, regardless of a student’s first language.
The benefits of the CALL Act would also stimulate economic and cultural vibrancy in the region. Multilingual employees and multilingual businesses are better positioned to meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural and globalized world. Enhancing workers’ English skills is good for workplace safety, from the farm field to the packing plant to the hospital emergency room, energizing a more efficient workforce. Furthermore, valuing Marylanders’ multilingualism, and recognizing their hard work as active members of our society, is the first step in embracing the rich cultural tapestry made by the many cultures and languages they bring to our Shores.
We encourage our neighbors, on both shores of the mighty Chesapeake Bay, to support the Credit for All Language Learning Act. Contact your state senator and delegate and ask them to vote for SB395 and HB569, respectively. Our students will appreciate it, as will our local schools, businesses, and cultural centers.
Owen Silverman Andrews is a community college instructional specialist of ELL on the Western Shore. Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho is a professor of Spanish and Black Studies at Washington College.