Is Bilingual Education Good or Bad?
Bilingual education is a variant of the basic educational system in which immigrant children are taught academic subjects using their native languages, and then slowly and simultaneously teaching the English language, and subsequently using the English language to teach the subjects. Bilingual education has been the preferred strategy for many schools in the US since 1980s because of some supporting research evidences. Research conducted by Lambert and his colleagues in 1993 and Bialystok in 2001 showed that bilingual children in Canada, Israel, Singapore and Switzerland scored higher than their monolingual counterparts on intelligence tests. Additionally, Canadian English-speaking children in Quebec who were taught French during their early and elementary school years remained English-proficient, and at the same time scored higher in mathematics and aptitude tests, and possess better appreciation of the French culture.
Despite the above-mentioned evidences for bilingual education, critics maintain the importance of teaching English immediately since immigrants need to interact and find work in the dominant culture as early as possible. Secondly, the critics underscore that bilingual education is slower and thus impedes academic skills. Lastly, many critics emphasize that encouraging multiple languages in a single nation is divisive, and that a single nation should utilize language as a significant force to unify the nation. Consequently, there are a multitude of existing legal actions against bilingual education. Several state laws in the US declare English as the official language, eliminating the school's responsibility to teach immigrants their native language. Specifically, Californians altogether voted against bilingual education.
In spite of the compelling critiques, several valid counter-arguments for bilingual education have sprung up. One such argument states that bilingualism is a natural aspect of a multicultural society; thus, the dominant culture should not force its immigrants to not speak and learn about their native languages. In addition, compounding research studies have shown that immigrants who feel that their native culture is being respected tend to possess better self-esteem and have a higher likelihood of succeeding academically.
The battle or the debate for and against bilingual education remains unresolved even today, and this is because despite the number of supporting research evidences, there remains no firm conclusions made. This is because there are irreconcilable variations among existing bilingual and English-only immersion programs in terms of the content, the length, and the quality of teaching. For example, Rossell and Baker in 1996 analyzed 10 comprehensive research studies and concluded that English-only programs are superior to bilingual education; however, Krashen, in the same year, criticized this conclusion upon close re-examination, showing that 6 out of the 10 studies that were identified as English-only programs were actually bilingual education in its modest form. One other example is the claim made by Westminster school district in New York, which, upon 18 months of continuous English-only instruction, showed that students progressed better academically and know more English words than other students from other schools. Serious scrutiny on this claim revealed that the gains are actually modest; its significance is at least questionable; that no appropriate comparison was made on the same school using a bilingual program; and, that the school nevertheless supported the immigrants to use their first language outside the classroom while the program was ongoing.
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