Bilingual Education and Dual Language Programs

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The most urgent of all educational challenges is not curriculum and instruction. It is the challenge of changing social/cultural relations through languages while simultaneously improving curriculum and instruction." Dr. Henry G. Burger Ph.D. (Mazon, 1976).

Schools in America are faced with a challenge; educating linguistically diverse students. Schools not only must accommodate large numbers of students from non-English language backgrounds, but must also cope with the linguistic diversity of their student bodies (McLeod, 1994). There is much controversy over the most effective way to teach literacy of standard language or languages for education in multilingual settings.

In 2002 the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was repealed and replaced with the English Acquisition Act. This emphasizes English rather than Bilingual instruction and encourages a rapid transition to English only instruction (Farver, 2009). By doing this we are not only losing history but more importantly identity.

For many students from a non-English language background, education in America is not a successful or enjoyable experience. Linguistic minority students do not perform as well in school as the linguistic majority group. Millions of public school student have limited English proficiency, and this number will continue to grow if drastic changes are not put in place. English language learners begin school behind fluent English speakers, they continue to fall behind in language and academic areas, if they do not catch up the results will most likely be outrageous. (Jost, 1) Children whose first language is other than English face considerable challenges in becoming literate and are at high risk for reading difficulties and low academic achievement. Spanish speaking students currently constitute the largest bilingual subgroup and are the fastest growing in English language learners (Farver, 2009).

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Rosalie Porter, Board member of the Center for Equal Opportunity states "Bilingual Education is the least effective method for teaching English language learners…students would learn the English language rapidly and master school subjects taught in English." The Supreme Court found "documented academic support for the view that structured English immersion is significantly more effective than traditional bilingual education" (Jost, 2009).

Bilingual education should not be just the transitioning a student to a target language. It should not be just simply teaching subject matter in a foreign language. It is not teaching the first language to a non-English speaking child, nor is it just teaching English as a second language.

While traditional Bilingual education, in the context of teaching non-English speaking people in both their native language and English, is considered to be failing, Dual language Bilingual education programs are emerging. Dual language is a type of Bilingual education program that helps students develop full literacy skills in English and another language.

Dual language education or "two way immersion" has become increasingly popular in the United States. English-speaking children as well as minority language speaker learn together in the same classroom, with the goals of bilingualism, bi-literacy, cross-cultural understanding, and high academic achievement for all (Palmer, 2010). They key with dual language education is it has to start when the child is just beginning school.

Dual language classrooms usually divide their days or weeks between the two languages of instruction, expecting all class members to interact in only one language at a time (Palmer, 2010). Moving between languages has been frowned upon and bilingual education had traditionally argued that languages should be kept separate in the learning and teaching of languages. This is considered separate bilingualism and is used as a means to not cross-language transfer (Creese, 2010).

The Milwaukee Public School District has many bilingual programs. Spanish/English Bilingual Programs are designed to preserve and develop the first language while ensuring full proficiency in English. Children are taught all subject areas in both English and Spanish. The district also provides Two-way Bilingual Programs, or dual language, that serve both language minority students and language majority students in the same classrooms. Generally, 50% of the students come from each language group. Both languages are used in teaching all subject areas (Miwaukee Public Schools, 2010).

I believe that all students would benefit from Dual language Bilingual education. I do think that it is very important for non-English proficient students to learn English, but also it would be very beneficial for English speaking students to learn a second language, Spanish.

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"Metalinguistic awareness is the ability to attend to, and reflect, upon the properties of a language" (Davidson, p 166). Metalinguistic awareness includes areas such as phonological tasks, syntactic measure, as well as many other language skills. In two experiments bilingual five and six year old children outperformed their monolingual peers when asked to detect grammatically incorrect sentences. Several studies have shown that bilingual individuals have an advantage on phonological tasks; this includes individuals who only have limited exposure to a second language. There have also been several studies that show a relationship between children's performance on syntactic measures and reading tests. Research has suggested that bilingualism enhances metalinguistic awareness. Results of experiments done shows that bilingual children outperform monolinguals in at least some measure of metalinguistic ability, or language skill (Davidson, 2010).

There has been research and studies done that show cognitive advantages for early exposure to second languages. Bilingual children have higher level of cognitive flexibility than their monolingual peers. They must use problem solving and knowledge assembly that require them to pare greater attention to context in order to learn a new language (Soderman, 2010).

Children are fully able to handle bilingualism without becoming delayed in their native language, or becoming language confused. In a two studies done, researchers found that preschoolers who were taught in both English and Spanish received higher scores on language assessments than other children. Also a follow up analysis showed that these children maintained their English proficiency a year later with no evidence of Spanish language loss. A similar evaluation in 2007 done by Barnett et al.'s found that the dual-language approach supported strong Spanish language vocabulary development at not cost to English language development. This was the case for both monolingual English and Spanish speaking children (Farver, 2009).

According to the National Associate for Bilingual Education (NABE) bilingual education refers to approaches in the classroom that use the native languages of English language learners for instruction. It has been practiced in many forms, in many countries, and for thousands of years. Defined broadly, it can mean any use of two languages in school - by teachers or students or both - for a variety of social and pedagogical purposes. These two languages usually consist of the student's native tongue and a secondary language. The goal is not only teaching English, but fostering academic achievement, acculturating immigrants to a new society, preserving a minority group's linguistic and cultural heritage, not only enabling non English speaker to learn English but enabling English speakers to learn a second language (National Association for Bilingual Education, 2009).

Bilingual children are equipped with a skill that is considered to be an integral and necessary component. To be fluent and literate more than one language provides children with advantages for the future (Soderman, 2010).

Both English and non English speaking children who live and learn in close association can benefit and learn the material well through dual language. Dual language Bilingual education programs offer an alternative to the concept of the melting pot by helping children overcome their self-depreciation and alienation by encouraging students to have a positive cultural and personal self-image. They can view their cultural and linguistic differences as a dynamic contribution to American society. Bilingual education is a program where every child in the country can benefit. It is to be viewed as a program for all, not just English language learners. Learning our nation's languages strengthens us both as individuals and as a nation (Jost, 2009).