Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is a kind of education where information or education is presented in two or more languages compared to other systems, by extension, any type of education where two or more languages are used are referred to as bilingual education. Going by definition, it seems like many schools in the globe, use bilingual form of education. However, different programs vary in their degree of the multiple languages used (Raum, 2008).

In the United States, scholars argue that, it is too costly and wasteful of resources to use the bilingual system or more so using any other language than English (Baker, 2011). This is partially because they think that the use of other foreign languages may result to a threat of the English language that America does not have an official language though. Other supporters argue the direct opposite of it, they argue that people who are non-English speakers usually learn the language in a more efficient and organic manner, when they are taught in both the native and the English languages. This may result to an increase in the skills of speaking English and the native language in general. On the other hand, those children who are exposed to many languages, especially in an academic environment, will never feel ashamed of speaking their mother tongue or the native language; this will help the students to be in their receptive state of mind with respect to leaning and mastering the language of English, in this case (Lin, 2009).

With respect to the above cases, it has been noted over the past several years that there was a need to come up with a body that would convene in matters of bilingual education. The National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) is the only organisation that is committed to representing bilingual professionals and even bilingual learners in the system of education (Baker, 2011). NABE is affiliated in approximately 20 states, and others are still registering as the situation is slowly turning into a crisis that needs to be addressed by the day. It has approximately 5,000 members that compose of bilingual and English language learners (ELL), parents, professionals, advocators, researchers, teachers and even policy makers. The mission of NABE is to advocate for the English and the bilingual language learners and their families and to encourage multicultural, multilingual society by promoting and supporting programs, policies, pedagogy, professional studies and development and research that translate to academic excellence, value of mother tongues, cultivate English proficiency and respect both linguistic and cultural diversity, together with the people practicing the action (Lin, 2009).

When one talks of bilingual education, many people are still not aware of what is being spoken about, different ideas come into the mind as traditionally the term was connected to many forms of education. Now according to Introduction of bilingual education, the term in the United States refers to the programs or the curriculum of the elementary schools and possible right from the kindergartens through the entire completion of the elementary education especially in public schools, designed to help students not proficient in English. The NABE goals and objectives are as follows:

  • Teaching of English language
  • Nurturing academic excellence
  • Helping the immigrants belong to the new culture
  • Protecting the linguistics of the minority group and cultural legacy
  • Helping people proficient in English learn new languages

Despite the effort of NABE, the system has not been accepted or adopted across the United States. However, in small proportions, some schools are adopting the bilingual system, though it was only a requirement that students should be taught on the bilingual basis for some time before English classes would take over . This means that most students will only engage in the bilingual system for few years, usually one or two, and then will become immersed in the English language. Other schools have a gradual system linking other languages to English; this usually takes longer time, usually five to six years. Previous research has shown that those students who engage in the process of gradual linkage score better in English exams than those who are rapidly transited. The process of teaching this system entails English being a second language, thus students who are not proficient in English are taught special courses that are presented in their native language, before being actively involved in studying English. Another form is the dual program or the two ways, where English-speaking students are taught foreign language and the native language speaking student are taught English (Feinberg, 2002).

In California, Massachusetts and Arizona, laws have been created requiring that English should be the only language used in schools, otherwise known as the English Immersion, as mentioned above, this is included in bilingual education, however, in this case, it is not applicable, because instead of teaching students both English and the native languages, English is the only language taught in this case. However, in other states, where most of the students are non-English speaking, and have limited English skills, for instance in Irving, TX, the idea of English immersion has been since shot down. As the number of immigrant’s increases, an increased stress is being experienced in public schools, at district or even national levels. The need to hire bilingual specialists and educators is increasingly becoming an important issue. Reports that have been submitted discussed problems that the bilingual education has at the district schools, some of the problems that have been experienced, include the teaching of non-English speaking students using English language, they merely understand due to lack of the native language educators. Due to this some students pass exams extremely well while others fail terribly. A lot of pressure is being put on teachers to enable students pass their exams, when, in fact, the necessary bodies in the education sector have not addressed the issue that is now a looming tragedy in national education sector because of teaching in languages that are not recognisable by some students. This results to students having skewed learning abilities, towards mathematics and arts only (Feinberg, 2002).

Although, the bilingual education is an instance, which was started with the humanitarian intentions, it did stir emotions among many people. Looking back in 1960s, when the civil-rights wars especially for the African American people were at a high level, and Spanish on the other side began to demonstrate the situations that led to the different proportions among the Spanish-speaking children, around 50 percent in the country. The Latino leaders strategized, by organising a civil rights movement, asking the legislative arm of the law to address the requirements of their kids pertaining to education. It is worth noting that English was never the only language of instructing students in America, in the eighteenth century, most instructions were carried on in German, Dutch, Swedish and French in several schools in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. Later on the classes were conducted more in German in several cities, French was also taught in other cities, for instance, in schools in Louisiana, Greek was taught in Pittsburgh. However, after the First World War, the idea of teaching students in English came into being. This decision on the policy of education, also cut across the churches, states and cities, the local conditions determined the local policies that were applicable in the schools. In 1968 there was the war on how the non-English-speaking children were to be educated. More money was used to make the program to be one that was actually beneficial; this sector of education has since become the most controversial in today’s political arena (Raum, 2008).

Most researches and studies were conducted before venturing fully into the program, and, it was found that, in the mid 1970s, Mexican-American children, particularly in the United States were different from the rest of the students. Due to these disparities it was, in fact, essential to give them the bicultural and the bilingual instructions in the quest of achieving the academic excellence. The educators were particularly concerned with soundness of the proposed idea that was, the urgent need for special teaching for non-English-speaking children; the court gave way on the basis of that logic. Since then, the problems associated with the form of education have become frequent, and, particularly in the United States, the idea of making it more desirable, more beneficial and even compatible with the several native languages that America receives on a daily basis.

The pressure and stress laid to hire the bilingual educators are more intense than can ever be imagined, especially because of the high influx of the immigrants, who vary in the languages and the overall cultural systems. Eager to hire the teachers who are proficient in these languages, states like Dallas have administered fake social security numbers to the foreign teachers so as to help them get in the pay roll without much delay. This was however discovered by the internal investigator and further investigation will be done to unveil the issues. The problem of getting the foreign teachers on the payroll is one that should be addressed, specifically by the government, in order to allow the education system to have a balanced system that involves a fair competition among the students and that no one is advantaged over the other. Critics of the program point out that many students are put in the system despite their fluency in English, others maintain that the best way of teaching English to non-English speakers is not through instruction in their own native languages but through immersion into the English language, complaints have been presented about the issue of lengthy linkage period to particularly English classes, claiming further that it is a waste of time, resources and opportunity in teaching the native English (Lin, 2009).

The rate of dropouts in high schools supports the position of the critics as shown in the graph. Although the rate of dropouts does not remain highest in the same ethnic groups, many successful students are known to excel equally well (Feinberg, 2002). An instance is in schools in the United States, namely, Nesly Flores, a High school senior student in Nampa and a Mexican refugee, arrived to the United States about four years ago, due to the hurricane that left the family homeless. Nesly was then enrolled into a bilingual school, without having learnt English; the hard work she put in has resulted to her knowledge of fluent English. Nesly is expected to join a local university after graduating with mean points of 3.87; she has additionally become an inspiration who other children and society in general tend to emulate.

A bar graph showing the level of highschool drop out between 1997-2001 in America

Interestingly, the supporters of bilingual education also laments that the programs needs to be well designed and the implementation done in an organised manner, that is really applicable in the situations it purports to intervene (Garcia, 2007). While the system should not be abolished altogether, improvement should be effected, to make sure that the parties, that are the students and the teachers both are comfortable in the education systems and the processes involved altogether. The national program should streamline the education program without affecting the innocent blood that would be a measure that would help improve the situation. Specialists have studied the issue over the years, and have noted that, the issue of bilingual education falls, under both the human and civil rights; this follows the anti- immigration rights and the so called erosion of gains made by the English language learners. There is a perennial tension that has existed between those viewing America as the country with a common national identity and those viewing it as the country of people with their own mosaic and cultures. Unfortunately, the American public schools have been the host of all this tension (Stout, 2008). The major issue was found to be the language that most schools had adopted the bilingual system in the 1960s and 1970s; however, due to the reasons and the constraints highlighted above, the system has had a major facet in the past years particularly in the United States. The major issue today is whether the immigrants, especially children should be taught English at school, in order to learn the subjects in English or they should retain their native languages and be taught the subjects in those languages (Baker, 2011).

Those in favour believe that schools should be built and the existing ones should not be dismantled, the minority languages and culture should be developed to enhance multi culture and to ensure that these immigrants are comfortable and have a feeling of belonging. While teaching children the subjects in their native languages, by giving instructions in English will help students learn the language and strengthen their own languages too. They are likely to excel even better than the student that are formally accustomed to English as the students understand the subjects in two languages and its easy to relate. This can be done through the transition from the native languages to the English language, or even through the dual way method of learning the languages side by side (Garcia, 2007).

The line graph showing the performance of the immigrants in high schools in America between the years 1972-2002

The critics that the bilingual education inhibits the ability of the child to acquire English quickly is not based on the statistics presented above, that shows that those students that are bilingual perform even better than their counterparts (Baker, 2011). The belief that for someone to succeed or do exceptionally well in America, one needs to be fluent in English and become dominant with the local culture, is one that has been proved over time not to withhold and the various methods of teaching the language that tends to sideline the immigrants, such as the sink or swim methods for acquiring the skills for English speaking and that foreigners can use them by quickly picking up the language is even outdated and notwithstanding, as many students have proved the integration methods even fruitful (Stout, 2008).