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Bilingual education put in simple terms is the use of two languages in institutions of learning.
Understanding the term ‘bilingual education’ as a simple educational process would be a mistake because in reality it denotes a complex phenomenon dependent upon a set of variables, including the learners’ native language and the language of the majority, the linguistic objective of the program and the educational model chosen for creating the bi-linguistic environment.
These factors are crucial in determining the kind of bilingual education to be adopted in a learning setting.
This paper seeks to explore the benefits that accrue from bilingual education system and, in addition, highlights the issues surrounding such education systems.
Objectives of bilingual education
Well formulated bilingual education programs not only recognize and develop knowledge and skills brought to the school by learners, they are also designed to be appropriate for linguistic, cultural, as well as social developmental of the students.
As such, they should possess such characteristics as clear goals for the programmes and high expectations for the learners, a curriculum comparable to contents covered in native-language-only classes, subject matter is instructed through native language, have multicultural instruction that incorporates learner’s original culture, use of appropriately trained instructors, community and administrative support for the programme, parental and family involvement, as well as adequate learning and teaching materials.
Dimensions of bilingualism
Analyzing the phenomenon of bilingualism, theoreticians need to take into consideration several overlapping dimensions of the discussed processes. According to Baker (2001), the levels of the students’ cognitive abilities as such need to be considered while developing the bilingual educational programs (p. 3).
Some bilingual learners can easily speak two languages while others are rather passive, developing a comprehensive understanding of foreign speech, but rarely using it for communication. The next aspect explored by Baker (2001) is the domains in which the language is acquired, including home, school or other spheres which allow various levels of language comprehension.
The context and the balance of the two languages are also the spheres giving rise to experts’ debates. Baker (2001) coined the term of elective bilingualism, which implies individual’s voluntary decision to learn a setting though it is not obligatory. All these aspects need to be taken into account for analyzing various bilingualism models and there appropriateness for particular setting.
Benefits of Bilingual education
Bilingual education is not only justified by research, but also by both common sense and experience of instructors. Vast amount of data from studies in education and language acquisition strongly suggest, for example, that the first language learnt by children is critical in determining their ability to adapt to a second language as the language for academic instruction (Cummins, 1979).
As such, Cummins argues that instructors must work harder to develop children’s skills in their first language in order to enable them to easily adapt to a second language as the instructional language.
The outcomes of the structured English immersion strategy, early and late exit models of bilingual educational programs were investigated in an eight years longitudinal study during 1984-1991. The results of this research have demonstrated the benefits of adopting the bilingual education strategies.
Three varying approaches to instructional learning (structured immersion, early-exit transitional bilingual education and late-exit transitional bilingual education) were compared. The findings of the research have shown that the academic achievements and linguistic competence of students receiving instructions in their native language are equal to those learners who receive instruction in only one language.
The effectiveness of dual immersion bilingual education programs is even more convincing. These models involve classes in which a half of students speak English as their native language while the rest speak another language. The students receive instruction in both languages.
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The core objective of these programs is to impart proficiency in both languages. Dual-language programs are equally beneficial for improving the language competence in both native English and Spanish-speaking learners.
She also found that, irrespective of the time spend receiving instructions in English, students in both programs were equally proficient in English. Besides, performance in mathematics was found to have a high correlation with the two languages. This study went a step further to demonstrate that education content available in one language is equally available in the other language.
Additionally, higher dropout rates and lower academic achievements are typical for learners with minority language backgrounds as compared to those who speak the majority language as their native.
In regard to the common sense factor, in the need for the adoption of bilingual education, it almost automatically follows that learners’ lack of understanding of the instructional language in the learning setting will render all objectives of the learning program void.
According to Garcia (2009), with the challenges of a new millennium, the English language as the language of international communication can be used for educating immigrants and supporting them in their adaptation to a new culture and community.
Though various socio-historical positions, dominating theories and geopolitical factors affect the choice of a model for bilingual education, the importance of using native language in education is obvious (p. 5).
Besides its basic effectiveness, there are several other clear benefits derived from the use of an education system that uses two languages. To begin with, it helps learners to preserve their sense of ethnic and cultural identity as well as sense of pride of their native language, in the process allowing them to smoothly integrate in their new society retaining a crucial link to their linguistic as well as cultural heritage.
Also, in the modern world, there are economic benefits that accrue from bilingual fluency and literacy. Bilingual individuals have better chances at securing well-paying jobs in companies and other non-profit organizations with international or global presence.
Program models of bilingual education
The socio-cultural context and the government policy are the influential factors which determine the choice of the strategies for teaching and learning languages. Depending upon the community needs which can change within the course of time, Education Departments try to consider the ethnic diversity of the population and provide all students with equal opportunities for receiving education.
For example, in the UAE the instruction in most schools was in Arabic previously. However, the government has changed the priorities towards bilingual Arabic and English education, taking into account the growing number of international students and immigrants.
Basically, there are six most popular models of bi-lingual education, including the early exit and late-exit models, two-way and one-way bilingual models, the pull-out and pull-in models. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages in the context of a concrete classroom.
First, the early exit or transitional model places more emphases on development of English in learners as well as their overall academic performance. Instructions in this model are issued to learners in the native language of learners in order to enable them to be at par with their peers in academic terms and simultaneously develop their English literacy. In the United States, enrolment in this program lasts for three years.
The second model is the late-exit bilingual education programs. Its objectives are to develop full bilingualism by encouraging literacy as well as oral fluency in both English and the native language of the student. Academic learning is also emphasized, and because of the wide content required to be learned by students, this program typically takes at least five years.
Dual immersion or two-way bilingual education program is structured such that native English-speaking learners and limited English proficient (LEP) students are placed in one classroom, which encourages collaborative learning efforts form both groups at language acquisition.
The goal for both groups is to meet high academic standards and in equal breadth develop fluency and literacy in both languages. Just like the second model, this type of bilingual education program lasts five or more years. There are two basic forms of this model, including the 90-10 and 50-50 patterns. According to 90-10 model, about 90% of time at primary school is spent on teaching a native language.
This time is gradually increased in the following grades. Devoting 90% of time on native language is explained with compensating for the dominating power of a foreign language outside the classroom setting. As opposed to 90-10, the 50-50 pattern offers instruction in the majority language for both minority students and native speakers for improving the language competence of both groups.
As compared to two-way models, one-way dual language programs have a number of advantages and disadvantages (Lacina et al. 2010-2011).
Thus, the main strengths of this model include the bi-literacy of learners as the main goal of the program, a positive socio-cultural climate and correspondence of the students’ age and the curriculum content. The drawbacks of this model are the difficulties with finding qualified bi-literate teachers and separation of the second-language learners from their peers.
The pull-out model is widely used for the second language users in the United States. The main principle of this model is pulling out the minority students from their classroom for a period of about 30 minutes for language instruction. Though the methodology and content of the pull-out classes can vary in different schools, the goals of enhancing students’ knowledge of the second language is common for most institutions.
As a rule, pull-out teachers conduct lessons with individuals or small groups of learners, aiding students in developing their academic skills and repeating particular program lessons which were not understood by the minority learners due to their language difficulties (Lacina et al. 2010-2011). The pull-out model can be beneficial for certain classrooms though it has a number of drawbacks.
Among the main advantages of this model is the individual approach to every learner, opportunities to group students of different age and language level, diagnosing students’ needs and implementing the strategies for filling the gaps in their knowledge.
The drawbacks for which this model is criticized and can be inappropriate for certain classrooms are the time limits of the push-out lessons, the separation of the second-language learners from their peers, psychological aspect of perceiving the push-out as the remedial instruction, the time required for the collaborative efforts of the language and core curriculum teachers and the expensiveness of the program.
The alternative to the above-mentioned push-out form is the push-in model of bilingual education in which a teacher comes to a general education classroom for conducting lessons and providing support to students have difficulties with perceiving the curriculum information in the majority language.
The goal of this model is improving students’ language competence and enhancing their understanding of the course materials at the same time. The length of the push-in lessons can vary depending upon the needs of a particular classroom.
This collaborative model of co-teaching would be much more effective if the core curriculum and language teachers devote time to discussing the materials and defining their common objectives and strategies. This model is less costly than the push-out lessons and can be used at schools with only a few second language learners (Lacina et al. 2010-2011).
The push-in model has its advantages and disadvantages, which need to be taken into consideration before choosing this model for certain school environment. The main advantages of the push-in model include preventing the risks of making mistakes instead of using the remedial instruction, making the curriculum content appropriate to the students’ age and cognitively challenging to them.
The disadvantages of this model are the additional burden of collaborating and training for the teaching personnel, the lack of opportunities for the second language learners to practice their language skills at class because they can be ashamed of their peers speaking the majority language and the lack of individual instruction for the learners experiencing language difficulties.
Issues surrounding bilingual education
With the loss of some minority languages and the current socio-political situation in the world, the problem of bilingual education and students’ facility in a second language have become important.
The spread of the English language and its official status of the global language used for business, the opportunities of teaching English as a foreign language and promotion of bilingualism for the school curriculum are considered by a great number of governments.
Most issues surrounding bilingual education system revolve around which model of bilingual education is most appropriate to be used. Opponents of bilingual education programmes find significant fault in the way the programmes are structured. For instance, critics argue that learners who do not speak English are entrapped in programmes which, instead of teaching English, endeavour to retain the native language of the students.
In the United States, opponents of bilingual education programmes often equate the case for bilingual education which existed in the country’s schooling system in the 1900s. Then, the immigrant students were prohibited to speak their native language at school.
The preference was given to the English immersion model, while the proponents of bilingualism stated that “students who did not speak English readily learned it and entered the educational mainstream”.
The prejudicial attitude towards immigrants had a significant impact upon the debates concerning the bilingual education models. Since language is the primary identifier of immigrants, there tends to be restrictions imposed on the use of the “foreign” language by the immigrants in their new country.
This is especially so in times of war and to a lesser extend during times of economic hardships. Since language is very closely associated with national identity, immigrants are forced to even abandon their native languages during such times as a proof of their allegiance to their new country.
Yet another major issue surrounding bilingual education has a basis on unrealistic expectation of immediate results. The limitation of some studies is expecting second language learners to go through tasks which would be difficult even for the researchers themselves.
The non-native English-speaking learners are unfairly expected to accomplish this while also learning other demanding academic subjects like science and mathematics. Their second language proficiency is unfairly matched to that of their peers who happen to be native speakers of English.
The discussion above clearly shows that immense opportunities accrue from bilingual education. Both native and non-native English-speaking learners are not only allowed to develop their oral and written skills in English, but they are also enabled to master academic content materials.
Initially showing lower academic achievements, students with bilingual learning background not only compensate for it in the course of time, but even surpass the academic progress of their peers. Moreover, Learners in bilingual education systems have been found to out-perform their peers in monolingual education programmes in both linguistics and general academics at advanced levels of learning.
All-in-all the benefits to bilingual education by far surpass their proven as well as perceived limitations. For this reason, authorities in increasingly multicultural societies (thanks to globalisation) should seriously consider introducing full bilingual education systems or, at least, incorporate major elements of bilingual education systems into the existing monolingual education system.
Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (4th ed.). Belmont, MA: Multilingual Matters.
Cummins, J. (1979). “Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children.” Review of Educational Research 49, 222–251.
Garcia, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st Century. Belmont, MA: Multilingual Matters.
Lacina, J., Levine, L., & Sowa, P. (2010). Learning a second language: Program models in Texas, Florida and the United Arab Emirates. Childhood Education 87(2), 106–112.