"[B]ilingual education based on the mother tongue is the basis for long-term success," reads a 2006 report from France's Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science, and Education. The Committee makes the case that bilingual education should be supported whenever possible to help minorities retain their native language and increase their potential for higher levels of academic achievement. The Committee cites many of the known and accepted benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy.
The committee stated that research has largely disproved concerns that children who grow up speaking two languages will either fall behind academically or risk not mastering either language well.
"The language that is used as the vehicle for instruction plays a crucial role because having command of it is the key to classroom communication and, as a result, students' knowledge acquisition." According to their report's conclusion, "a great deal of research has confirmed that types of education based on the mother tongue significantly increase the chances of educational success and yield better results."
How does bilingual education work?
While gradually moving students from other languages into English-only classrooms, bilingual education programs instruct academic subjects in their native tongue. The majority of these programs in the United States instruct native speakers of Chinese, Navajo, or Spanish. ESL programs are only intended to teach English to speakers of other languages, whereas bilingual education programs are intended to encourage further retention and development of the native language while teaching English, enabling the child to develop fluent bilingualism and biliteracy. This is why bilingual education programs are distinct from ESL programs.
What advantages does bilingual education offer?
Students typically move from the bilingual classroom to the English mainstream classroom over a period of one to six years, according to bilingual education teachers. Students who are required to learn a language and other academic subjects in that language frequently fall behind, so this can be advantageous for one reason: it allows them to continue their own academic advancement while learning the dominant language. Students continue to progress academically while learning the language by teaching academic subjects to children in their native language while also learning English. In addition, they acquire literacy and fluency in both languages.
Quality bilingual education has been shown to be an effective method for teaching students of second languages. The development and maintenance of a student's native language has been found to enhance rather than hinder English language acquisition in successful programs.
The benefits of being bilingual are not much debated. The Parliamentary Assembly cited the following advantages of plurilinguals:
In addition, bilingual programs encourage the preservation of a minority group's linguistic and cultural heritage. These benefits include: • an enhanced faculty for creative thinking • more advanced analytical skills and cognitive control of linguistic operations • greater communicative sensitivity in relation to situational factors • improved spatial perception, cognitive clarity, and analytical skills Unless it is taught and frequently spoken at home, children who attend English-only schools from an early age will significantly lose their mother tongue and culture. However, it is all too common for Americans of second and third generation to lose their heritage language.
Why is bilingual education so controversial if benefits of bilingualism are not in dispute?
The following are typical arguments and sentiments against bilingual education in the United States:
Immersion The argument goes that a person will not learn a new language if they are not completely immersed in it. As a result, immigrant children should be taught entirely in English right away rather than learning slowly because they will not learn as well that way. The belief that a child's ability to learn English is hindered by retaining and developing their first language is a common criticism of bilingual education. However, advocates of bilingual education maintain that learning the second language will be made easier by keeping the first language. Additionally, immersion opportunities abound, whereas opportunities for high-quality bilingual education do not.
Low test scores and poor reading skills in both English and the native language are two of the reasons why some people question the effectiveness of bilingual programs in teaching language-minority students mastery of the English language. However, the Parliamentary Assembly's 2006 report suggests that low scores are more likely to be due to the child's social environment than to the effectiveness of bilingual education.
Additionally, a 1987 study conducted by the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) found that children enrolled in "properly designed" bilingual education programs achieve grade-level English and math standards in three to five years. To refute the claim that bilingual programs slow the acquisition of English and keep children out of the mainstream for longer, the report used data from 25 schools in seven California districts.
Due to prejudice and xenophobia, Spanish and other minority languages have historically not received the respect they deserve. In the past, immigrants and natives were not allowed to speak a language other than English in school, and parents did not teach their children for fear that they would fail or be held back. We are still haunted by this prejudice today.
Fear In 2010, the Mexican heritage and culture were outlawed in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) high schools. They claimed that the classes were encouraging Mexican-American children to want to overthrow the US government and teaching them to resent white Americans. The school was seeing an increase in academic achievement, but the program was teaching minority students about their own culture rather than mainstream culture, so it was discontinued. This is very similar to the struggle that American bilingual programs have also had to overcome.
Inadequate research In addition, the fact that bilingual education research has its own set of issues is not helpful. According to James Crawford, a bilingual education researcher, "program evaluation studies that feature appropriate comparison groups and random assignment of subjects or controls for pre-existing differences are extremely difficult to design." As a result, research on the effectiveness of bilingual education continues to be contentious. However, Crawford maintains that well-developed native language skills are linked to high levels of academic achievement and that there is strong empirical support that native-language instruction does not impede or slow the acquisition of English.
A National Research Council committee's press release from 1997 may have led to a more comprehensive conclusion. They stated that bilingual education research and evaluation efforts have been hindered by political debates regarding how to instruct children with limited English proficiency. Based on local needs and resources, the committee suggested that research concentrate on locating a variety of educational strategies that are effective for children in their communities. When it comes to the creation of high-quality bilingual programs and the lack of qualified bilingual teachers, both of these factors can be major causes for concern.
Kenji Hakuta, Stanford University professor of education and committee chair, stated, "In recent years, studies have quickly become politicized by advocacy groups selectively promoting research findings to support their positions." Rather than picking a program that works for everyone, the most important thing should be figuring out which parts, supported by solid research findings, will work in a particular community.
Why aren't our schools supporting bilingualism if it has an educational advantage?
The fact that native English-speaking children can enroll and learn a second language is another benefit of bilingual education that is frequently overlooked in the United States. While the majority of other nations teach many languages from a young age, the United States is known for being one of the least dual-tri lingual countries in the world, with a preference for English alone. The fact that most Americans are aware of the advantages of speaking at least two languages is interesting, despite the fact that bilingual education is still a contentious issue.