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Bilingual education is the study that focuses on two languages and this case being Spanish as first language and English as the second language. This kind of study was due to the demands by the Spanish immigrants in the United States that their children learn the English language as well. They wanted a form of an understanding of the language of instruction to help their children create good communication skills in the public schools for better learning environment. For a long time in America, the public schools focused on two languages for instruction, the main one being the English language with the aim of helping students get familiar with the English language (Angela 16).
It has always been available to those students who hardly spoke any English or were non-proficient in English. These students have been referred to as ‘Limited-English-proficient’ (LEP) or ‘English Language learners’ (ELL). Though the federal government had attempted to distance itself from this program in the early twenty first century, its implementation has received immense support by both the State governments, local education agencies and even the federal government in United States. Debates over the usefulness of the program has caused a great spectacle with each team arguing why they each think that the program is or is not very useful in the country. This argument had taken an interesting turn especially with the notion that the Mexican American students are the largest language minority in the United States.
Background Of Bilingual Education
According to Cummins (16), bilingual education embraces both the public and private schooling in America. It is not a new phenomenon as its application dates back to almost five hundred years. In 18th and 19th centuries, similar programs were introduced with a specialty to German, French and Scandinavian all of which slowly waned during the two World Wars which saw a decrease in the European Immigration.
The years1958 – 1968 saw the evolution of Spanish being introduced as a foreign language in the States. During this period, reforms were made in the curriculum programs to embrace improved learning in mathematics, sciences and also foreign languages. This was after the Soviet launched its first earth artificial satellite in 1958. During this period, it also saw many Spanish citizens migrating to America as a result of the Cuba Revolution. They settled in Southern Florida around the Miami area.
The Spanish speaking residents needed to learn and assimilate English as a second language and as a result, bilingual programs were introduced in public schools in 1959. the new program grew and its popularity attracted the interest of the nation as a result of its effectiveness and in 1963, the program was introduced in Southwest.
The state showed support in this program upon the implementation of two Acts of Congress at the time; the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Title VII Bilingual Education Act of 1968. it was the Title VII Bilingual Act that brought major changes when it authorized the bilingual local schools to be funded. This was aimed to those students who spoke other languages apart from the English language. In the first year alone after its implementation, it had funded over 76 bilingual programs of students who spoke over 14 different languages (Joel 16).
The Introduction of this Act increased the level of learning both the Spanish and English language and it was later backed by other statutes and even court orders at a later stage. These programs have received a good response throughout the years up to date and its implementation has been embraced even at this era.
Federal Support Of Bilingual Education
Before we embark on our argument as to why the implementation of bilingual education in schools is important, it is important to first see how the federal government has supported this program.
The support dates back when it introduced the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Title VII Bilingual Education Act of 1968 as has been discussed earlier. By end 1968, more than 10 states had enacted several statutes that backed the bilingual program and several others had passed legislation. The key role of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was to fund the program for the poor students who couldn’t afford it, the adults who wished to enroll in this programs and even giving support to the teachers of this programs. The Bilingual Education Act enacted shortly afterwards became the backbone of the first Act and the government ensured that the funds were released to schools offering this programs. It demonstrated the need to use the two languages for instruction as a means to enhance the education of the language minorities (Reynaldo 31).
The federal government, after the introduction of the Bilingual Education Act was able to achieve the following; it convinced those states which only took English to be the only language of instruction or those that prohibited the use of any other language other than English to amend or repeal their state laws to accommodate the new program. Secondly, it also signaled its go ahead to adopt the use of non-English languages as languages of instruction to teach the minority students. This was in particular the minority students in the Southwest and Northeast. Lastly, it was able to highlight the problems of these minority students making them recognizable.
However, it should be noted that the federal government did not have a smooth ride to implement these programs to be widely acceptable. It took almost a decade for it to be able to implement these policies and required backing by various policies including court decisions to finally implement the programs.
In 1970, the Department of health, Education and Welfare issued a directive as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 directing all schools in the district to stop any form of discrimination to students not familiar with the English language. The memorandum instructed the schools to take into consideration the students who were limited in the English communication ability and to further put their problems at ease by ceasing to test this students highly in English and lastly, to bring in participation of their parents by communicating to them in the language that they understood.
In 1974, the government was given a further backing by the Supreme Court when they held unanimous decision in the celebrated case of Lau V. Nicholas when it spoke against discrimination in school programs that were conducted exclusively in English. It further stated that the schools had a responsibility of ensuring that the students were helped to overcome their language barrier (Jennifer 22).
The same year saw the introduction of Equal Educational opportunity Act that prevented any kind of language discrimination. The New York City Board of Education which was the biggest school in the nation at the time was sued by an advocacy group known as ASPIRA. The advocacy group argued that the school had failed to provide the necessary education to the Spanish speaking students from Puerto Rican. The advocacy group got their moment when an order was given to all schools to obtain a consent decree requiring them to provide the Spanish students with the bilingual education programs.
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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was further amended in 1975 to include a provision of bilingual ballots and services pertaining elections so as to include non-English speaking citizens such as the Latinos, Indian-Americans and the Asians. The courts too inserted a provision in the Court Interpreters Act in 1978 requiring interpreters for the defendants who could not understand English to be provided to aid in smooth and fair court proceedings. It also required the state to release funds for the interpreters to be trained.
The campaign for bilingual program has grown ever since with new policies being put in place with the support of the federal government.
Linguistic Benefits For Bilingual Program Implementation
Though many people tend to ignore other languages other than English, there are advantages of being able to learn more than one language. The benefits can be classified into four categories as they will be discussed below.
The first benefit of bilingual learning is for cognitive development. This means that the child is able to enhance his creativity due to the diversity thinking. They further develop verbal abilities that they utilize by learning and appreciating other people’s culture. They also develop excellent listening skills in a bid to learn more and are in a better position to solve a crisis due to their general reasoning (James and Judith 13).
The other benefit is personal appreciation. When one learns another language, it helps that person open up socially and engage in communications with more people. This is especially important for a child who opens up to the outside world by not shying away when around people who cannot express themselves eloquently in English. Learning another language other than English helps the child to enhance their memory and studies have indicated that such children develop good memory than those children who only learn in one language.
The child also acquires Academic advantage over other students. Research has further shown that the students who have engaged themselves in more than one language score a grade higher in examinations. The study further revealed that they scored higher in exams for joining college especially the verbal section tested by Scholastic Aptitude. It also revealed that students who learnt an additional language exhibited better academic performance achieving highly than their counterparts.
Economic benefit is another reason why the program should be implemented. Learning more than one language opens up more career paths to the individual. This has been attributed to the increase of economic growth abroad. Careers such as interpretation or teaching foreign languages require one to have knowledge of an extra language other than English.
Implementation Of Bilingual System In Schools
Though there is no age limit of learning an additional language, it has been encouraged that bilingual programs be introduced in schools so that children are engaged at early age. Immersion programs have been classified into Early immersion, Middle immersion and Late immersion. Early immersion is where the child starts learning the other language between the ages of 5 to 6. The middle immersion engages the child who has attained the ages between 9 to 10 and lastly, the late immersion range between the ages 11 to 14 (Courtney and Catherine 10).
Various reasons have been given for the importance of implementing the program to schools with the most outstanding reason being that young students have the ability to learn how to mimic the native words faster than older people. learning a foreign language require lots of mimicking the native words to come up with a sentence and young children have greater advantage.
The other reason is the ability of young children’s ability to develop the intonation of the native language faster than the older ones. Learning the second language in school also helps to open up the child mind and perform well both academically and socially. They grow up with a critical mind and ability to communicate effectively over the years.
Though many people argue that introducing more than one language to a child creates confusion, research has indicate that to the contrary, it enhances the child’s memory and all that the child requires at this age is motivation from his elders.
Challenges Of Bilingual Program Implementation
The implementation of this program has faced many criticisms from various bodies. A movement was established in 1980 with a goal of eliminating all non-English languages in the region. It aimed at ensuring that the state reverted back to the English-only and makes it the sole official language. By 1990, its attempts bore fruits when 17 States gave a declaration that they only recognized English as their universal and official language. It was also successful when the bilingual education policies were reverted in the states of California in 1998 and in its place introduced the Structured English Immersion for all the Limited-English-proficient students. Arizona and Massachusetts followed suit in 2000 and 2002 respectively (Bruno 33).
Most of these movements have painted a bad picture with their arguments that the undocumented Latinos are out to steal the jobs of the American citizens. The program has also been termed as a disaster with many people arguing that it is costly for the state to implement the program. Much of the worry comes from the immigrants being incorporated into the American culture and society and further being immersed into the host country. This has been connected to the politics, most of the critics opting to vote out the program. They have gone to an extent of viewing the bilingual education program as a form of remedial education.
The critics have also gone further to treat the bilingual students as helpless bunch of individuals and they don’t recognize the education program as an academic subject. They criticize the mode of teaching the students major subjects like mathematics and sciences in their native language as primitive.
Other critics have argued that bilingual education is not so much of an issue about the language of instruction but rather one is which is based on competing cultures. The culture here is the one between American and Spanish.
The other main challenge facing this implementation is from the state itself. This has been established by only four public schools in the District receiving waivers from the department in a period of two years to initiate these programs.
It has also been argued that most people have attained success without having to undergo the said program. This has acted as a challenge to convince students to undergo the program in which most term as difficult and a waste of time.
Effectiveness of Bilingual Education
Several studies and researches have been conducted to show the effectiveness of bilingual education. According to Virginia (32), the Longitudinal Study of Structured English Immersion Strategy (1984-1991) identified and gave comparisons of different approaches to educate Limited English Proficient students with each language of instruction differing with each other.
The approaches they discussed were the structured immersion, the early-exit transitional bilingual education and lastly, the late-exit transitional bilingual education. In the first approach, all the instructions were mostly given in English language while in the second approach, the initial stages of the student learning were done in the native language and the rest in English with the native language only being used when there is a need to clarify and issue.
The last approach is where the students for most part of their study received their instruction in their native language regardless to whether they were fluent in English. The study results indicated that the students who were using the last approach which is the late-exit transitional bilingual performed higher in their grades as compared to the other two approaches. The study also showed that they all acquired the skills of the English language at the same rate. The same findings were supported by Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas, both of who conducted a research on the effectiveness of bilingual education. They also stated that students who had received instructions in both languages performed better than their counterparts.
Research has also been conducted on the dual immersion bilingual education programs. This is where instructions are given in both the Spanish and English language. The research showed that the students benefit from the two way program and that they are equally proficient in the English language.
The census conducted in 2002 in United States gave an estimation of over 45 million people in the state whose first language is not English, with almost 60 percent of the total being Spanish speakers. In the released statistics, it showed that 55 percent of the Latinos and Latinas could speak both English and Spanish, 21 percent reporting to only speak the English Language and 24 percent stating that they spoke only Spanish. Armed with this figures, it is therefore apparent that the numbers of Spanish who spoke Spanish as a native language and who could not express themselves properly in English is still very high (Miguel 24).
From the researches that have been conducted, it is clear that effectives of bilingual education has been established and should be encouraged since mainstream and marginal groups benefit much from them.
The critics of bilingual education should first get their facts right before arguing. This kind of education has brought unity in all the students. Those who only spoke Spanish can now understand their counterparts and be able to communicate effectively. The bilingual education should actually be improved and the government introduces new policies to support it and make sure that it still has a future in our state.
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Courtney, Cazden and Catherine Snow. English Plus: Issues in the Bilingual Education.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. London: Sage, 1990. Print.
Cummins, Jim. The Entry and Exit Fallacy in Bilingual Education. NABE Journal, Vol (94)45, 1980.
James, Olson and Judith, Olson. From Trauma to Triumph: Cuban Americans. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1995. Print.
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