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The Peculiarities of the Bilingual Education Analytical Essay


Language can function successfully only in the societal context when people interact with each other with the help of language as the system of signs and codes. The facts of the language importance for communication at all the social levels, the processes of the world globalization and integration emphasize the necessity of knowing and using more than one language in the everyday life.

Australia is a country where the phenomenon of bi/multilingualism is explained by the historical, economic, and social factors. English is considered as the dominated language in the country, but there are a lot of other languages which are actively used as the first or second languages within the country’s territories.

They are Italian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, the language of aboriginals, and many others. The percentage of monolingual persons in Australia is too low in comparison with the number of bi/multilingual people (Lo Bianco, 2009). The character of using two or more languages by multilingual people depends on many social factors and is influenced by the governmental and educational policy in this field.

The multicultural and demographic context of Victoria is one of the most complex ones in Australia. That is why it is significant to concentrate on the peculiarities of the bi/multilingual context of Victoria (Melbourne in particular) with focusing on the features of the Italian language‘s usage as the base for determining the most effective educational program appropriate for this context and bilingual situation.

The peculiarities of the bilingual situation in the context of Melbourne, Victoria, with focusing on the usage of the Italian language

In relation to the question of using one or more languages, Australia can be considered as the follower of the multicultural language ideology. It is typical for the authorities of the country to discuss the problem of multilingualism in Australia regularly in order to develop the effective measures for contributing to the issue’s solution.

According to Lo Bianco, “at a time of rapid and deep globalisation, acute competition for prosperity and influence, highly literate communication ability, bilingualism and intercultural knowledge and skill assume great importance both within our enduringly pluralistic society, and in a ‘shrinking’ multilingual world” (Lo Bianco, 2009, p. 4).

The development of bi/multilingualism as a complex cultural and sociolinguistic phenomenon in Australia is not only the contribution to the world tendencies, but it is also the reality of the population’s life caused by a lot of significant historical and social factors. One of the factors of the bi/multilingualism progress is the migration process because the arrived immigrants form their specific communities in which they can use their native language and transfer it to the next generations (Lo Bianco, 2009).

The modern population of Victoria is also formed as a result of the migration processes of the 20th century when a lot of immigrants came to Australia because of the dramatic political and social situations in their native countries. Italians are “the second-largest immigrant community in Victoria after the English community, with 82,851 Italy-born people recorded in the 2006 census” (History of immigration from Italy, n.d.).

Thus, Italians form a significant cultural and linguistic community in Victoria and particularly in Melbourne. The process of the Italian settling in this region can be divided into several periods, and the wave of immigrants after World War II was the most significant one. The Italians became to play the vital role in the economic and cultural development of the territories (Italian history society, n.d.).

The peculiarities of the linguistic situation with the Italian language in Melbourne, Victoria, depend on the general situation with the languages of immigrants in Australia. It is typical for many immigrant Australians to shift from using their native language to using English in all spheres of their everyday life. However, it is also common for these Australians to speak their native languages at home while speaking English at work and in schools.

The fact is the representatives of new Australian communities can be usually challenged to experience their native language’s loss (Lo Bianco, 2009).

To describe the bilingual situation (Italian/English) in Melbourne, it is necessary to determine the criteria for the analysis of the bilinguals in this context. Thus, it is essential to pay attention to the origin of the bilingualism (the period when people learn two or more languages), the aspects of the bilinguals’ proficiency or competency in two languages, the peculiarities of the languages’ functions in society.

The bilingual situation in Melbourne can be determined as the example of the individual bilingualism when people use the principles of code-switching and code-mixing of languages as the elements of their daily personal communication and social interaction without influencing the peculiarities of using the languages in the full social context. Those people who can be considered as bilinguals in Italian and English generally learn two languages at the same time.

It is the period of the early childhood, and the process is influenced by the fact of the parents’ bilingualism. One parent can use English and the other one can speak Italian in the family. This fact causes the children’s development as simultaneous bilinguals. Nevertheless, the peculiar features of the children’s further interactions in society can affect the level of their proficiency in both languages. Thus, the language competence depends on the social attitudes to the both used languages (Lo Bianco, 2009).

The level of proficiency in two languages (Italian and English) in the bilingual community of the Italians is generally different among the individuals because of the aspects of their usage. The level of proficiency is analyzed by assessing the individuals’ competence in speaking, reading, listening, and writing in this or that language.

If people have the opportunities to speak both Italian and English in all the spheres of their lives and in all contexts, their skills in the languages develop at the same level and they can speak fluently these languages in spite of the context. However, many Italians of the young age have the opportunities to use their native language only within their families or while communicating to their friends of the Italian origin.

They can speak Italian fluently, but they can experience difficulties with reading and writing in this language. They do not study Italian at school at the necessary level because there are no English/Italian bilingual schools in Victoria (Gibbons, 1997). Most Italians study English as the language of their education at school and improve their writing and reading skills in this language. That is why many Italian speaking individuals cannot read and write in their native language, but are good in all the kinds of the language competence in English.

The language contexts in which bilingual people are inclined to use both languages can be formal and informal. In informal communication with friends and relatives many bilingual persons use both languages with focusing on that language which is used by the partner. Participating in the formal interactions, bilinguals use the language dominated in the country. Thus, it is the English language which is used at work, at school, for business and cultural interactions in Melbourne, Victoria (Gibbons, 1997).

The definition of bilingualism (Italian/English) in the context of Melbourne, Victoria

The bilingualism in the families of those immigrants who came from Italy during the migration processes of the 20th century develops according to the principles which are common for the majority of the world immigrant populations. According to these principles, the process of acquiring the second language (English) includes four steps.

The first step is the period of the active usage of the primary language (Italian) not only within the family but also while communicating to the other people. The next stage is the usage of the native language within the family and the dominated language while interacting in society.

The development of the third stage is the most typical for the Italian-speaking community. These people are inclined to use English in the most contexts and situations with the diminished use of the first language (only at home or only with friends). Sometimes these bilinguals can shift to the fourth stage and become the fully monolinguals. It is typical for the young people who have the limited interactions with their community in which people speak their native language (De Courcy, 2002).

These stages of the bilingualism development and its possible shift to monolingualism are characterized for the progress of the subtractive bilingualism. This type of bilingualism is typical for many immigrant communities when the usage of their native language is not encouraged in the society.

The term is connected with the process of the adoption of the dominant language by a person whose first language is the heritage language. “This means that the child loses his or her native or heritage language at the same time s/he acquires proficiency in the dominant language of the country” (Potowski & Rothman, 2011, p. 313).

That is why the subtractive bilingualism is the result of the social attitudes to this or that language which is not widely speaking in society and reflects the status of the language in this society. It is significant that many migrants are expected to learn English for their successful process of assimilation to the Australian society which cultural majority is English-speaking.

Therefore, “young migrants in Australia are susceptible to subtractive bilingualism” (Potowski & Rothman, 2011, p. 313). In this situation, subtractive bilingualism can be considered as the necessary condition for the adaptation in a definite society under the influence of the extra-factors.

Moreover, the situation is also affected by the fact of focusing on studying English at school and by the absence of bilingual Italian/English school in Victoria. Thus, bilingual children very often have to attend schools where they study only with the help of the language of the majority because of the lack of definite bilingual schools (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).

In this case, bilinguals can experience a kind of the social pressure, and they are insisted to speak predominantly English during their daily interactions. That is why bilinguals’ proficiency in the first language can be decreased because of the lack of the necessary development at school and the competence in the second language can grow along with the improvement of the language and speech skills of the bilinguals.

Nevertheless, “subtractive bilingualism does not necessarily result in limited bilingualism” (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007, p. 16). There are many different types of the subtractive bilingualism which depend on the frequency of the usage of the native and second languages in various contexts.

Thus, different individuals can experience different levels of the development of subtractive bilingualism. Furthermore, the notion of ‘subtractive bilingualism’ can be considered as having a quite negative connotation and as not appropriate for describing the real situation in the language context.

According to Chin Ng and Wigglesworth, “in view of the negative connotations attached to subtractive bilingualism, a more neutral term like ‘differential bilingualism’ may be more appropriate for this phenomenon” (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007, p. 16). The notion of ‘differential bilingualism’ is based on the concept of ‘subtractive bilingualism’.

However, it accentuates not the fact of the possible replacement of the native language (L1) by the second language or dominated language in this society (L2, English), but the peculiarities of the both languages’ functioning in the specific context. Therefore, Chin Ng and Wigglesworth state that “instead of a simple replacement of L1 by L2, differential bilingualism highlights the differential development of the bilingual’s first and second language” (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007, p. 16).

This term can be discussed as more correct for analyzing the role of the native and second languages for the bilinguals with references not only to the context of their usage but also to the question of proficiency which can depend on a range of individual factors.

The notion of ‘differential bilingualism’ with the definition presented by Chin Ng and Wigglesworth can be considered as reflecting the situation in the context of Melbourne, Victoria, with referring to the Italian/English bilinguals because of the fact that “differential bilingualism also refers to a situation where the two languages spoken by the bilinguals are of unequal status” (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007, p. 17).

According to the current investigations, it is possible to define the bilingualism in the context of Melbourne including the Italian/English speaking individuals as the differential bilingualism with focusing on the peculiarities of the development of bilinguals’ proficiency in two languages, on the differences in the contexts of their usage, and on the social unequal status of the Italian and English languages in Australia in general and in Melbourne in particular.

The peculiarities of the educational program appropriate for the context of the bilingual situation in Melbourne, Victoria (Italian/English)

Today many Australian researchers and governors emphasize the necessity of supporting various projects associated with the question of the development of bi/multilingualism in society as the significant factor of the modern social progress and the reaction to the world processes of the economic and cultural integration and globalization which involve the issue of knowing more languages as one of the main aspects of the effective communication.

The intensively growing amount of bilinguals and multilingual persons should be considered not only as a result of determining the global needs and tendencies but also as the characteristic features of the societies in many countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia in which the percentage of bi/multilingual is very high.

The population of these countries is the combination of many different nations and cultures which have their specific languages and traditions. It is impossible to ignore the fact of the development of the multinational, multicultural, and multilingual population in Australia. That is why all these progressive processes should be controlled by the authorities.

There are many government programs which focus on the issues of multicultural and multilingual population of the state. These programs and projects also involve the educational aspects, and they are the part of the process of the national language planning. That is why many accents are made on the importance of the bilingual school programs which could contribute to the increase of the developed bi/multilingual society which has a lot of benefits in the progress of the economic, cultural, and social spheres.

According to Lo Bianco, if Australia were able to articulate the public ‘donation’ of bilingualism offered by minority communities with the focused and instructed language skills produced in public institutions, the nation could generate a widespread, productive and less wasteful distribution of bilingual human capital (Lo Bianco, 2009, p. 4).

Thus, the development of the bi/multilingual nation is possible only with paying attention to the combination of public and private efforts. Moreover, it is necessary to focus on the improvement of the bilinguals’ proficiency in their both languages in spite of their possible social status and frequency of the usage within the public.

In Australia the Federal government directly controls the education in universities, and the local education is the sphere of the local authorities’ control. Thus, the Federal government is not responsible for providing the necessary funds for supporting the development of the local bilingual education (Gibbons, 1997).

That is why the states regulate the peculiarities of providing the bilingual education at their territories. The Bilingual Schools Project was started by the government of Victoria, Australia in 1997, and it focuses on the development of the role of the first or native language in communities and on establishing the bilingual schools in the state as the reaction of the social needs.

Today there are a number of bilingual schools in Victoria in which the focus is on the immersion education with references to such community languages as, for instance, Greek and Chinese.

Nevertheless, there are no bilingual schools with the immersion programs for the representatives of the Italian-speaking community even in spite of the fact that the Italian language is the second language in the country according to the frequency of using by the population.

Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians of 2008 also accentuates the necessity of learning the Asian languages (Lo Bianco, 2009). That is why the problem of establishing bilingual schools with references to the Italian/English bilingual education remains current.

The developed bilingual project in Victoria is based on implementing different kinds of the bilingual and immersion educational programs which are also actively used in the USA and Canada and can be considered as the most effective ones for improving the students’ skills in two languages with increasing the level of their proficiency.

Thus, De Courcy states that immersion models as the programs for developing the students’ high level of proficiency in the second language were successfully implemented in Canada and the USA. “As the public and political emphasis are currently on higher proficiency in second languages for young Australians, immersion programs could be one way to achieve this aim” (De Courcy, 2002, p. 2).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of different types of bilingual education possible for implementing in various regions of Australia, depending on the peculiarities of the language situations and contexts.

To choose the most appropriate variant for the bilingual situation in Melbourne with references to the Italian and English languages, it is necessary to analyze the aspects of the definition of the immersion program, its distinctive features in comparison with the other bilingual programs, and the peculiarities of its successful implementation in the chosen context (Hones, 2005).

De Courcy accentuates that immersion programs cannot be considered as equal to the typical bilingual programs used in schools of many countries because the immersion programs provide not only learning the peculiarities of the other language but also concentrate “on studying the content of the curriculum in the second language” (De Courcy, 2002, p. 5).

Moreover, the researcher determines the strict difference between general bilingual programs where “at any one time, some of the children in the class would be being educated in their native tongue” and this fact “contrasts with immersion programs, where there is rarely a child in the class who speaks the language of instruction as his or her native language” (De Courcy, 2002, p. 7).

In his work, De Courcy pays much attention to the aspect of acquiring the high-level competence in the second language as the most significant aim of the immersion program without the necessary references to the position of the first language and the level of proficiency in it.

The researcher uses the notion of ‘submersion’ for defining the situation when there is “the immigrant child who is being educated in a normal mainstream classroom, in a country where his or her mother tongue is not the majority language” (De Courcy, 2002, p. 6). The development of this situation is the fact of the progress in the individuals’ subtractive bilingualism.

The negative consequences of the development of subtractive bilingualism can be overcome with the help of such successfully designed programmes in which all the students’ linguistic needs could be addressed, and which could contribute to the development of the equal level of proficiency in both languages (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).

These programs are predominantly immersion programs which models were successfully used in Canada and in the USA. The effectiveness of the immersion programs depends on the correlation of such significant factors as ‘time’ and ‘intensity’ (Lo Bianco, 2009). According to these factors with references to the role of the languages involved, the researchers and educators determine the total immersion, partial immersion, double immersion, and dual (two-way) immersion, early and late immersion.

Total immersion is widely used in Canada and the USA where the students are all English speakers. The amount of the instructions given in the second language varies from 100 percent at the start of the program until 80 percent at the next stages. Partial immersion differs from the total immersion in the percentage of the instructions in the foreign language. To realize the double immersion, the instructions in two foreign languages are used (Collier & Thomas, 2004).

These types are also appropriate as the early immersion programmes used in the primary schools. Nevertheless, “immersion programs emphasize developing fluency in an initially unknown language through content-based teaching in the second/foreign language, at no expense to the home/first language of the students” (Swain & Lapkin, 2005, p. 169).

That is why these types of the immersion programmes are more effective for improving the bilinguals’ proficiency in the second language without focusing on the native language. In the context of the bilingual situation in Melbourne with the Italian-speaking community, it is necessary to choose such a programme which could also contribute to the development of the competence in the native language in order to diminish the progress of differential bilingualism (DeJong & Howard, 2009).

To fit the bilingual situation in the context of the Italian-speaking community of Melbourne, it is useful to implement the “dual-languages programmes (or two-way immersion programmes) in which mixed groups of majority-language and minority-language children are educated in the two languages” (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007, p. 87). Thus, one of the main characteristic features of these programmes is the roughly equal proportion of the students from different language backgrounds (Chin Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).

That is why the significant accents in providing these programmes are made on the development of the equal level of competence in both languages. Those educators who use two-way immersion programmes state that this type of education helps to develop as the balanced bilingualism as the high level of biliteracy (Gomez, Freeman, & Freeman, 2005).

It is possible to determine several factors which can support the possible effectiveness of the usage of the two-way immersion programme in the bilingual school established in Melbourne with referring to the needs of the Italian-speaking community. Dual immersion programmes are the most effective variant for the context and bilingual situation in Melbourne, Victoria, because programmes provide the high level of the linguistic support for the students who belong to different language communities.

Thus, the both language groups have the opportunity to become the balanced bilinguals and avoid the negative effects of the differential bilingualism as a type of subtractive bilingualism. Their academic successes in studying both languages contribute to the development of their almost equal level of proficiency in the native and second languages (Collier & Thomas, 2004).

Besides the benefits related to the linguistic area, the students involved in the dual immersion programmes can improve their relations with the other students who belong to different language communities. The Italian-speaking students have the opportunity not only to increase the level of their competence in the English language but also to become the active participant of the social life.

Furthermore, the findings of the investigation state the fact that the well-established two-way programmes provide the high level of education for students who can improve their skills in their native languages and in the second language. Thus, their achievements can be compared with the positive results of the students involved in the total immersion programmes (DeJong & Howard, 2009).

That is why the dual immersion programme can be considered as the most effective variant of the bilingual education which is appropriate for the bilingual situation within the context of the Italian-speaking community in Melbourne, Victoria, because of the possibility to provide the high level of competence in both languages and to develop the students’ biliteracy.


The immersion education provides a lot of benefits for those students who are involved in different kinds of the immersion programmes. Nevertheless, the level of the possible effectiveness of this education depends on the appropriateness of this or that type of the programme to the particular context or bi/multilingual situation.

The immersion education is one of the most successful ways to contribute to the students’ high level of proficiency in two languages, to develop their cognitive flexibility and the orientation on the global social demands and intercultural relations. Participating in the dual immersion programme based on the development of Italian and English languages, the representatives of the Italian-speaking community in Melbourne can receive the opportunity to be successfully performed in the Australian society as the balanced bilinguals.


Chin Ng, B. & Wigglesworth, G. (2007). Bilingualism: An advanced resource book. USA: Taylor & Francis.

Collier, V. P. & Thomas, W. P. (2004). The astounding effectiveness of dual language education for all. NABE Journal of Research and Practice, 2(1), 1-20.

De Courcy, M. (2002). Learners’ experiences of immersion education: Case studies of French and Chinese. USA: Multilingual Matters.

DeJong, E. & Howard, E. (2009). Integration in two-way immersion education: Equalising linguistic benefits for all students. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 12(1), 81–99.

Gibbons, J. (1997). Australian bilingual education. In J. Cummins & D. Corson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education (pp. 207-215). USA: Springer.

Gomez, L., Freeman, D., & Freeman, Y. (2005). Dual language education: A promising 50-50 model. Bilingual Research Journal, 29(1), 145–164.

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Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (2005). The evolving socio-political context of immersion education in Canada: Some implications for program development. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15(2): 169-186.

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