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Pros and Cons of Bilingual Education

Since the 1960s, bilingual education has become a roaring debate and a significant concern for media, educators, parents, and scholars. In today’s multicultural environment, change from the traditional education system is crucial; however, there are numerous concerns in this paradigm shift. By realizing the need and importance of bilingual education and considering its pros and cons, we can better understand the issue. Debates about the advantages and disadvantages of bilingual education were initiated from the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Bilingual Education Act (1968), which dominantly shaped bilingual education laws (Pandey, 2010). The paper aims to examine the pros and cons of bilingual education and comment on various issues that its supporters and critics have debated.

Defining Bilingual Education

To convince parents and teachers that bilingual education is beneficial for non-English speaking children, the term “bilingual education” should be unambiguous. However, deciding how to classify bilinguals is problematic (Baker, 1985; Mackey, 1962; Skutnabb-Kangas 1981, qtd. in Baker 2). Baker further explains that defining bilingualism is fraught with problems as there are many dimensions to this term (3). However, for determining bilingual education, Wink reminds us of Professor Beto, who asserts that bilingual education is all about the instruction given in two languages. Beto adds on to the concept and says, “Bilingual education is all about learning and literacy. That’s it.”(qt. in Wink)Krashen further adds to the definition and states, “Bilingual education consists of good, comprehensible input in English, good subject matter teaching in the primary language, and continued literacy development in the primary language. Kids can get literacy and information because of these three components. “(3-4 qt. in Wink)

Pros and Cons of Bilingual Education

The concept of ‘bilingual education’ is considered to be the education programs that are mainly designed for students with a lacking ability to speak and understand the English language. Among several applications, some include the features of teaching academic subjects in native language for better understanding, for instance, Spanish or Bengali. Besides, these programs teach English as a second language (ESL). While some other programs emphasize on learning English by completely immersing students in English-only class. Any of the programs allow all students to teach both languages in Mainstream classes. There are different variations of these approaches, and various schools adopt either one or more of these approaches simultaneously. The idea of ‘bilingual education’ is considered to be transitional bilingual education(TBE). According to TBE, non-English speaking students are taught in their native language to develop a better understanding of English and prepare for mainstream English courses. The very objective here is simple; to produce students who are proficient in English (Loreta).

 Criticism for Bilingual Education

According to the critics, these laws decreed that a non-English speaking child should be taught in his or her native language for a transitional year while learning English. Moreover, he or she should be transferred to an English-only classroom as fast as possible. However, these instructions were undermined by bilingual enthusiasts. Consequently, English learning was neglected, and the Spanish language and culture keep up became the norm (Duignan).

Furthermore, bilingual education was considered to be essential to maintain Hispanic pride and to prevent Americanization. Lau v. Nichols (1974) decision is regarded as a landmark for bilingual education for non-English people. Therefore, the practice moved beyond a one-year transitional year to a multi-year plan in which non-English students were taught in their native language before teaching them English. This facilitation limited Spanish students to Spanish-only classes where the Spanish were mainly shown with only 30 minutes of English class. In this way, bilingual education became more of a Spanish culture maintenance class than a rigorous transitional learning year. Furthermore, criticism for bilingual education increased with several objective analyses, which revealed that it is ineffective, keeps the students for a more extended period than required, slows down the learning of the English language, and keeps non-English students from assimilating American society. The high dropout rate of Latin students and the low rate of graduates from high school and colleges limited Spanish people at the lower level of economic and education in the United States (Duignan).

 Support for Bilingual Education

It is often claimed that the capacity of bilingual education is not supported by research. However, the dominant and hardest critics, such as Rossell and Baker(1996), don’t claim the inefficacy of bilingual education; rather, they argue that there is little evidence for a bilingual education program to be superior to all-English programs. Despite this argument, the evidence against bilingual education is not very convincing. The primary issue is labeling; for instance, some critics claim that English immersion programs were shown as superior to bilingual education. However, in the case considered, the plans were part of bilingual education and but marked as ‘immersion.’

Gersten(1985) comes up with another study that claims all-English immersion is better than bilingual education. However, Krashen(1996) reveals that the sample size and duration of the study were not sufficient in addition to a missing description of “bilingual education”(qtd. in Krashen).On the other hand, numerous studies showed the efficacy of bilingual education. The studies reveal that bilingual education is effective inadequately designed bilingual education programs where students are getting English academic education are performing better than all-English programs(Cummins,1989; Krashen,1996; Willig,1985 qt. in Krashen). Willig revealed that with better experimental study design, more positive impacts of bilingual education would have been drawn(qt. in Krashen).

The primary critique for bilingual education programs is about the cost involved. Bilingual education program execution is costly compared to English-only programs (notes qt. in “Bilingual Education”). On the other hand, supporters of bilingual language argue that bilingual education programs may be expensive but effective when it comes to teaching students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Immersion is an alternative to bilingual education. However, research proved this method ineffective(Krashan,1999 qt. in “Bilingual Education”). When a student is not proficient enough in a language and doesn’t understand the teaching, the content, and money spent on such education is lost. English-only programs are not sufficient because immigrant students depend on school for other subjects than English, for instance, math, history, science, and other skills (“Bilingual Education”).

Another significant argument is that bilingual education encourages separation; by rejecting the dominant language, it helps non-English students to resist assimilation into popular culture. These students want to be part of mainstream society and benefits associated with it but without giving up their language and literature (Notes qt. in “Bilingual Education”).Contrary to this observation, supporters believe that minority students can be part of their culture and language and learn English simultaneously. It is more about their identity, and there is no point in giving up one’s lifestyle for becoming part of mainstream culture. If it happens, the spirit of a multicultural world will die. It is the diversity of thought and ideas that enrich learning process as English Plus points out, there is no doubt that non-English students need and want to be fluent in English to become part of the mainstream culture, but they also have much to offer from their diverse cultures and languages (qt. in “Bilingual Education”).

According to Rizwan Ahmad, bilingualism is mostly associated with immigrants in the United States; therefore, the term “bilingual child” may refer to poor and uneducated. However, the fact is that the United States had a monolingual minority and will undoubtedly benefit from providing education in bilingual classrooms (qt. in “Bilingual Education”). According to a research conducted by US English Inc., bilingual education programs designed to help immigrants to get assimilated in American society but it works oppositely because they are isolated which limit their earning potential, however, Krashen(1999) support his argument by Lopez and Mora study(1998) which reveals that difference between former ESL and bilingual students is little and not even statistically substantial( qt. in “Bilingual Education”). Fallows supports this stance by clarifying the misconception about immigrants and particularly Latino’s resistance to assimilation. He gave a statistic demonstrating that young Latinos are more assimilated in American society and speak better English than their parents and grandparents. He concluded that immigrant people are “moving down the path towards assimilation” (qt. in Lipka).

Rosalie Pedalino Porter claimed in her article “The Case Against Bilingual Education” that bilingual education has completed its adequate trial time to be proved a failure. She considers bilingual training as the most controversial area in public school. Despite acknowledging its benefits, Porter fears that increasing immigrant involvement and a general understanding of non-English people may do more harm than good (Porter, 28-35).

Porter refuted different justifications for bilingual education that also include the “theory of incompatibilities.” According to this theory, Spanish-American children are very different from the majority of mainstream American children. Therefore, they should be taught in both languages to ensure their success. She asserts that such theories may be intended to support bilingual education goals, but in reality, they work against it. The goal here is considered to be English language proficiency and non-English student’s academic achievement in English-only classes. Porter further argues that even though bilingual education was started with “best of humanitarian intentions,” in reality, it became “terribly wrongheaded” (28-30).

Lipka tries to observe if bilingual education produced the desired results in the classroom. According to her observation, the past thirty years of research give little justification for teaching children in their native language to help them learn English or other subjects better. At the same time, this is the only primary objective of the legislation and judicial decisions for bilingual education. Generally, bilingual education advocates self-esteem and stress among non-English students in an all-English system. However, Laika argues that the self-esteem of children in bilingual program students is not higher. There are no significant self-esteem issues among students exposed to English-only class right from the first day at school.

Despite all the debate, some people still believe and emphasize the importance of bilingual education. One of them is Fallows, who questioned and doubted bilingual education as it was considered to negatively influence student’s progress. However, he explains that after a complete investigation, he found that there is little association between the political debate and actual practice. According to Fallows, bilingual education debate is quite inflammatory as there are points of concern on both ideological and methodological levels, and discussion is generated because of educational and political reasons. For many advocates of bilingual education, it is a symbolic heroic claim for Spanish, while some activists consider it a representation of Latin cultural pride and political power. Fallows discusses that ideological concerns regarding bilingual education are counterproductive. (qt. in Lipka).

Lipka realizes that the concept of bilingual education was simple; it was designed to support immigrant children to learn English and compete in English-speaking mainstream society. But in reality, bilingual education has become what is not the spirit of the letter and the law. It was intended to be a transitional period of a maximum of three years in which children were taught in their native language to understand and learn the academic subjects while learning English. However, this innovative idea started an education industry that went far beyond its original mission of making students proficient in English. Irrespective of the law and fundamental purpose of bilingual education, the practice became more concerned with teaching native language and working on ethnic culture maintenance rather than teaching English for three years. Consequently, the method added to the segregation of non-English speaking students.

Despite all the controversy, the concept of bilingual education was genuine, even its opponents accept it. It was intended for better learning of non-English speaking children and the collective good of American society. Law and social forces should reject and deal with the negative influences attached to an honest effort. Bilingual education may be a symbolic victory; for some, it may be a threat to assimilation, but it is just a method of training for children and parents to help them for a better life. It is high time to understand that it is not a matter of ideologies but methods that may or may not be beneficial for our children.

Work Cited
  • Baker, Colin. Critical issues in bilingualism and bilingual education. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd, 1988.Print.
  • “Bilingual Education.” site maker. umich.edu. The University of Michigan, n.d.Web.4 November.2010.
  • Duignan, Peter. “Bilingual Education: A critique.”Hoover Institution Stanford University.hoover.org., September 1.1998.Web.4 November.2010.
  • “How to Make Vegetarian Chili.” eHow.com. eHow, n.d. Web. 24 February. 2009.
  • Krashen, Stephen. “Why Bilingual Education? ERIC Digest.”ERIC Digest.ericdigests.org., n.d.Web.4 November.2010.
  • Loreta Medina. “Introduction.” At Issue: Bilingual Education. Ed. Loreta Medina. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. August 2004. Web.4 November 2010.
  • Lipka, Sara. “Flashbacks: The Battle Over Bilingual Education.”The Atlantic Online. The Atlantic Monthly.theatlantic.com.11 December 2002.Web. 3 November 2010.
  • Porter, P. Rosalie. “The Case Against Bilingual Education.”The Atlantic Online. The Atlantic Monthly.281.5 (1998):28-39.Web.4 November 2010.
  • Wink, Joan. “Defining Bilingual Education in Various Contexts.Joanwink.com.n.d.Web.3 Novermber.2010.

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