Bilingualism is a word that is used to define a characteristic of an individual as well as a social institution. Either ways, the topic has been subjected to controversy. On an individual level the argument revolves around the potential costs and benefits of bilingualism in students learning English. However on the societal level, fiery argument is being witnessed in the U. S. about the insight of bilingual education and the official support of languages other than English in public institutions.
The threshold of a new year, a new century, and a new millennium is a natural time for taking stock of current status of social trends. This coincides with a dramatic reconsideration of the 30 year policy called bilingual education. The years of heaviest immigration to the U. S. , from the latte 1880s through the 1960s, might have characterized as the “early stone age” of education policy for immigrant children. There was no policy. Children were left to sink or swim, to make progress, unassisted, in learning the common language of the school and the community.
People believed that young children naturally pick up a new language without any help. Those who did learn English well enough and soon enough proceeded with their schooling; those who were not so adept at language acquisition dropped out of school and went to work in factories or on farms. (Baker & de Kanter, 1983) The controversy surrounding bilingualism is magnified by a sense of urgency generated by the changing demographic picture. In the U. S. , there are over 30 million individuals for whom English is not the primary language of the home.
Of those, 2. million are children in the school age range, with this number expected to double by the year 2000. There are now many states in which the linguistic-minority school population is approaching 25% or more in many large urban school districts throughout the U. S. , 50% of the students may come from non-English-speaking homes. Beginning in 1968 with the passage of Bilingual Education Act, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a new era of official concern for immigrant, migrant, refugee, and local born non-English speaking children prompted official action.
From 1968 to 1998, the movement to help these children learn English for an equal education opportunity was quickly turned into the state mandated reliance on a one-size-fits-all experiment called Transitional Bilingual Education -what might be termed the “Iron Age” of bureaucratic heavy-handedness. Analysis of Bilingual Education Bilingualism considered as a simple bi-variate function of language expertise in two languages, under-represents the ins and outs of the social setup.
The history of research on bilingual students contains many false inferences about the effects of bilingualism based on a miscalculation of the complexity of the phenomenon. Bilingual education programs have been in existence for over two decades, and thus the reasonable question arises as to whether there is evidence of the relative effectiveness of the different approaches. Summative evaluations of programs that compare these different approaches have run into difficulty on a number of fronts.
Willig (1985), in a meta-analysis of studies of the effectiveness of bilingual education, complained that evaluation research in this area is plagued with problems ranging from poor design to bad measurement. She concluded that “most research conclusions regarding the effectiveness of bilingual education reflect weaknesses of the research itself rather than effects of the actual programs” (p. 297). The range of variability among the research approaches chosen is instructive.
Almost all of the program evaluation studies concentrate on the effectiveness of the programs in teaching the students English, rather than focusing on students’ overall academic development or factors other than traditional measures of school success. Furthermore, the studies tend to observe children over only a limited duration, often no more than two years. The research defines its treatments and outcomes in strictly linguistic terms. At stake is the question of which approach would lead to faster and stronger acquisition of English.
This question is a scientifically legitimate one, but it is dwarfed when compared to the outcomes that are of real long-term interest to society: the social and economic advancement of linguistic-minority populations through education. My interviews with the teachers and students indicate that in the process of second-language acquisition, the native language does not interfere in any significant way with the development of the second language. Second-language acquisition and first-language acquisition are apparently guided by common principles across languages and are part of the human cognitive system (McLaughlin, 1987).
From this structural point of view, the learning of a second language is not hampered by the first. Furthermore, the rate of acquisition of a second language is highly related to the proficiency level in the native language, which suggests that the two capacities share and build upon a common underlying base rather than competing for limited resources (Cummins, 1987). Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion The Argument On one side of this debate are supporters of local-language teaching.
Advocates of bilingual education suggest hard line improvement of the native language proceeding to the beginning of English. This strategy is based on the argument that competition in the native language, specifically, as they relate to de-contextualized language skills, offer significant cognitive basis for second-language attainment and academic achievement in common. The simplicity of transfer of skillfulness obtained in the native language to English is an imperative element of this argument. (Ramirez, 1986)
The other part of the argument of the debate, some suggest the introduction of the English core curriculum from the very start of the student’s education experience, with minimum utilization of the native language and lie in the category of English Immersion. This strategy calls for the use of simplified English to facilitate comprehension. One perceptive request of this English Immersion technique is its reliability with time-on-task arguments—that spending extra time being given to English should help the students in learning English (Rossel & Ross, 1986).
For and Against Bilingual Education After reviewing the research, teachers have realized that Bilingual Education programs offer a pragmatic way to meet the federal legislation’s ambitious goals. The instructional infrastructure of Bilingual Education programs provides greatly increased educational productivity because it offers full rather than partial achievement gap closure at annum costs comparable with existing programs. Traditional programs for English learners provide only remedial, watered-down instruction in “playground English,” virtually guaranteeing that the local English speakers will outperform English learners and thus widen the achievement gap over time.
English learners need enriched, sustained forms of instruction that allow them to receive support in their first language while learning a second language. Bilingual Education programs offer English learners a mainstream curriculum, which leads to full English proficiency and curricular mastery, with instruction provided by monolingual and multilingual teachers who already work within the school system. Bilingual Education programs also provide integrated, inclusive, and unifying education experiences for their students, in contrast to the segregated, exclusive, and divisive education characteristics of many English Immersion programs.
The atmosphere of inclusiveness in the Bilingual Education milieu meets the cultural needs of minorities and provides opportunities for them to experience the world of their non-minority peers. Just as important, non-minority students expand their worldviews to include knowledge of and respect for the customs and experiences of others (Magnet, 1990). Local English-speaking children receive many of the benefits of travel to, and life in, other countries, along with an increased understanding of other cultures.
Many Bilingual Education students value these early experiences, and, as high school graduates, they actively seek opportunities for international travel and employment that uses their second language. In the same way, recent research to assess bilingual education programs takes an very narrow meaning of bilingualism, specifically, as the practice of two languages in instruction. The policy argument over how best to teach students who come in school with inadequate talent in English has paid attention on the problem of local-language support in instruction (August ; Garcia, 1988).
There is barely any argument over the eventual target of the program—to “mainstream” students in single-language- English classrooms with maximum effectiveness. The apprehension has centered on the particular teaching role of the native language. On the other hand, English Immersion advocates have attacked bilingual education, claiming that it delays the learning of English and thereby hinders assimilation into U. S. society (Padilla et al. , 1991). They also challenge its educational effectiveness. To be sure, this challenge to bilingual education is not new.
In fact, since the passage of the first Bilingual Education Act in 1968, critics have been vociferous. For and Against English Immersion English immersion (also called structured immersion), similarly predominates in more schools than one would assume from looking at statistical reports. English immersion classroom differs from a mainstream, sink-or-swim classroom because the class is composed entirely of English language learners and is taught by a teacher trained in second-language acquisition techniques. The teacher conducts instruction almost exclusively in English, but at a pace students can keep up with.
English immersion–provides instruction almost entirely in English, but in a self-contained classroom consisting only of English language learners (ELLs). English Only advocates have attacked bilingual education, claiming that it delays the learning of English and thereby hinders assimilation into U. S. society (Padilla et al. , 1991) whereas English immersion helps the students in learning English at a faster rate. They also challenge its educational effectiveness (Imhoff, 1990). To be sure, this challenge to bilingual education is not new.
In fact, since the passage of the first Bilingual Education Act in 1968, critics have been vociferous. One of the apprehensions that undo the English Immersion trepidation of linguistic division can also be recognized. They include: the readiness of migrants, change from their native language to English; the racialist mind-set that inspire English Immersion; and the impact of relationship within the same community on social and ethnic individuality. Lambert (1987) has argued that a subtractive English immersion program can do enormous harm to a linguistic group’s self-confidence and even to its integration in the wider society.
Thus, the language restriction policies advocated by English Only can have detrimental effects on language minority children’s sense, not only of themselves and their ethnic group, but of U. S. society as a whole. The consequence is potential alienation from society. An individual’s positive self-identification can also influence educational achievement. J. Kadar-Fulop (1988) has shown that the development of “language loyalty” or the encouragement of positive attitudes toward one’s language, is critical for literacy education.
Similar findings emerge from research by Maria Matute-Bianchi (1986) with Mexican-descent and Japanese-American students and by Kathryn Linholm (1990) with Mexican-American children. Their studies demonstrate that cultural identity mediates educational development (Ferdman, 1990). The wish to maintain cultural identity may also explain why many Asian-American and other ethnic-minority parents place their children in special programs such as Saturday schools to develop their children’s competence and pride in their heritage language and culture.
Conclusion There is, indeed, more to issues confronting the bilingual education and English immersion than can be summarized by language proficiency measurements. As social scientists and educators, it is our obligation to capture the complexity of the situation and in the process to enrich our own science and practice. My interviews with the teachers and students indicate that most educators base decisions about how to teach not just on state mandates but also on their assessment of what their English language learners need, the numbers of English language learners in their classes, and their own philosophy.
Most teachers with whom I have talked believe that teaching students in English as a secondary language is more important because the students understand the lectures in a better way. In general, a mainstream classroom that provides extra help seems to be more practical for many schools, and any academic harm caused by such classrooms is apparently not significant enough to be noticeable to most teachers or to offset the relative ease with which schools can form such classrooms.