Monday, December 7, 2009

Bilingual Education in the United States

What do we know about bilingual education?

There are two different approaches to bilingual education.

Subtractive Bilingualism: This approach is when the target language is taught to the detriment of the first language development or maintenance.

Additive Bilingualism: In this approach, the first and second languages are given equal status in development and maintenance.

In the United States, the subtractive approach gives preference to English over other languages, whereas in the International communities, the additive approach prevails since language diversity is considered to be a way of economic development and prosperity.

Let’s take a look at what this means…

Studies have shown that students who are instructed in their first language can later transfer the same knowledge to their secondary language. In fact, a study investigating the English proficiency skills between 534 English immersion students and bilingual transition students in Texas showed that bilingual students had only a slightly lower growth rate of 8.1% compared to their English immersion peers of 8.9% at the same grade levels (Tong et. al., 2008).

Cognitive benefits: Raised creativity, speed, and flexibility in thinking

Social benefits: Improved ability to access different languages and cultures in multiple situations

Employment benefits: Increased job choices in advanced fields

Cultural advantages: Enhanced access and awareness to cultural knowledge and increased tolerance for different beliefs and customs

True bilingualism gives equal weight in developing language to both languages, and provides a number of benefits in the quality of life, work, and cultural diversity.

Interesting links:

For Bilingual Education

National Association for Bilingual Education

Rethink Schools Online

California Association For Bilingual Education

Against Bilingual Education

Teach Our Children English

The Case Against Bilingual Education

What it all means…

Bilingualism and biculturalism does not lead to the identity loss. Appropriate support from educational institutions and family members is necessary to maintain and foster dual language and cultural heritage.

Bilingualism and Identity

Myths about bilingualism and identity:

  • A child who learns two languages won't feel at home in either of them. S/he’ll always feel caught between two languages/cultures.
  • Bilingual education leads to identity loss.
  • Bilingual education causes confusion in language learners.
  • Bilingual individuals have two separate languages that don’t intertwine.

Truths about bilingualism and identity:

  • Research shows that identities are not necessarily stable; if children acquire two languages/cultures and feel accepted by both of them, they will identify with both.
  • Identity is not single or defined by only knowing one language; identity is plural. Positive language attitude can develop compatible (not oppositional) identities.
  • Language learners are able to understand the difference between languages from as early as 2 or 3 years old, and are in fact not confused about which language is which.
  • Rather than being “double-monolingual,” bilinguals have access to linguistic resources and are able to use these resources strategically and with sensitivity to situational and contextual factors.

How to Choose a Bilingual Education

What is bilingual education?

Students receive instruction in more than one language, but the degree to which the two (or more) instructional languages are utilized, and the structure of the programs differ greatly.

Available language education options…

English-Only (Submersion) Programs: Students placed in an English-speaking classroom with native English speakers, regardless of the student’s level of proficiency in English. Students are expected to learn the content of the material taught in English.

English as a Second Language (ESL) or Sheltered English Programs: Non-English speaking students are placed in English-speaking classrooms for part of the day. The other part of the day the students are in a classroom with a trained ESL instructor, where they receive individual and concentrated instruction on the learning of English.

Traditional Bilingual Programs: Students are instructed in various subjects in their native language with the goal of transitioning to a second language as quickly as possible, although bilingualism may not necessarily be the goal.

Dual-Immersion Programs: Fluent or native speakers of two different languages are placed in the same classroom and instructed in both languages alternately. The goal is for both groups of speakers to become proficient in the other language.

Other Info:

Center for Applied Linguistics