A Case For Bilingual Education

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According to a 2006 report by the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science and Education in France, “[B]ilingual education based on the mother tongue is the basis for long-term success.” Citing many of the known and accepted benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy, the Committee makes the case that bilingual education should be supported whenever possible, to help minorities retain their native language – and moreover increase their potential for higher levels of academic achievement in the process.

Concerns that children who grow up with two languages will either fall behind academically because of it, or are at risk of not mastering either language well, have largely been disproved by research, the committee stated.

“The language which is the vehicle of instruction has a crucial role in that command of it is the key to classroom communication and consequently to pupils’ acquisition of knowledge. A great deal of research has confirmed that types of education based on the mother tongue significantly increase the chances of educational success and give better results,” they concluded in their report.

What is Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education programs teach speakers of other languages academic subjects in their native language while gradually transitioning them into English-only classrooms. The majority of these programs in America teach to native speakers of Spanish, Chinese, or Navajo. Bilingual education is different from ESL because ESL programs are meant only to teach speakers of other languages English, while bilingual education programs are meant to encourage further retention and development of the native language while teaching English, enabling the child to develop fluent bilingualism and biliteracy.

What are the benefits of Bilingual Education?

Bilingual education teachers generally transition students from the bilingual classroom to the English mainstream classroom over a period of 1-6 years. This can be beneficial for one because it allows the students to continue their own academic advancement while learning the dominant language, whereas students who must learn a language and other academic subjects in that language often fall behind. By teaching children academic subjects in their native language while acquiring English, the students learn the language while continuing to progress academically. Furthermore, they become fluent and literate in both languages. Circles

Studies have shown that quality bilingual education can be an effective approach for teaching second language learners. Successful programs have found that developing and maintaining the student’s native language does not interfere with English language acquisition, but instead enhance it.

The advantages of bilingualism are not highly debated. Some of the advantages plurilinguals have, cited by the Parliamentary Assembly, 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

Furthermore, bilingual programs encourage the preservation of a minority group’s linguistic and cultural heritage. Children who are put into English-only schools from a young age will greatly lose their mother tongue and culture unless it is taught and frequently spoken at home – however it is all too common for second and third generation Americans to lose their heritage language.

 

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